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This New Old House: "Demolition" Versus "Remodel,' Redux 

Wednesday, Mar 27 2013

In December, SF Weekly ran a story about the surreal rules builders exploit to blow up small homes into mansions, consuming San Francisco's dwindling affordable housing stock.

That story turned out to be Exhibit 17 in a March 20 hearing at the Board of Appeals.

At issue was a central example cited in that article: a home at 125 Crown Terrace owned by developer, former Building Inspection Commission president, and Port Commission nominee Mel Murphy. He hopes to "remodel" it from 854-square-feet to 5,139-square-feet.

The complaint involved gripes about blocked views, but it also delved into the city's interpretation of a statute allowing savvy developers to, via "repair and maintenance," remove the elements of a structure they specifically retained to avoid being classified a demolition.

Asked if it's possible to level a building, construct a new one, and define this as a "remodel," 125 Crown Terrace designer Drake Gardner in December told SF Weekly it is. "But you can't do it all at once," he said. "You'd have to do it piecemeal. ... So you try to fish through it all, get it approved, build it — and then not get in trouble with the inspector for taking out more than you designated you were going to."

This quote caught the attention of Board of Appeals President Chris Hwang. "The article quotes the developer planning a way around a demolition," she told city Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez on the 20th. "Doesn't this ... smack of trying to circumvent" the rules?

Sanchez noted the threshold of any rule will be pushed, and that this case "meets the letter of the law." He questioned, however, the efficacy of that law, which is "cumbersome to implement and able to be exploited."

In other words, considering the inherent loopholes in any law, and considering the Planning Department believes it's applicable to simultaneously replace and retain key elements of a structure, this is a code-conforming project.

Three of the five board members agreed. Murphy's six-year quest to move his family into the future mansion has cleared another hurdle.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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