Zoning controls are the primary way that the city regulates the use of land. (It is zoning, for example, that allows tall buildings to be built downtown, while prohibiting them in outlying residential neighborhoods.) To implement the Area Plan policy documents, the Eastern Neighborhoods Program will include new zoning controls that specify what land uses will be permitted in the future.

In general, the Planning Department is proposing three types of zoning in the Eastern Neighborhoods:

  1. Residential Zones: In areas which are currently zoned for residences only (generally portions of the Mission, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch) the proposal is to leave this zoning intact, with some changes intended to encourage development near strong transit service.
  2. PDR Zones: The intent of these districts is to ensure space for existing and new PDR businesses and activities. In order to protect PDR, residential development would be prohibited, while office, retail, and institutional uses (schools, hospitals, etc.) would be limited. HOWEVER, residences, offices and retail which currently exist legally in these areas may stay indefinitely.
  3. Mixed-Use Zones: There are many portions of the Eastern Neighborhoods where it makes sense to promote a mix of different types of activities. The Plans propose a variety of different mixed-use zones, to accommodate unique characteristics of different neighborhoods. These range from neighborhood commercial zones, which call for a mix of residences and retail, to other zones which bring PDR into the mix.
  4. Special Use Districts: Near Mission Bay the Plans propose two special use districts to encourage emerging new technology and medical-related businesses and institutions.

Aside from regulating what sorts of activities can occur on a given parcel of land, the proposed Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning also includes a variety of changes to other key regulations, including the following:

  • Building Heights: Height limits would be adjusted both up and down in various areas. No heights would be raised above 85 feet.
  • Parking: In mixed-use areas, parking requirements would be changed generally to remove minimum parking requirements and establish maximum requirements instead.
  • Open Space: In many areas, the amount of open space required as part of new development would be increased. Additionally, these spaces will be required to be greener and more usable.
  • Unit Mix: Existing density requirements would be replaced with a bedroom-mix requirement to ensure a diversity of housing units.

What is PDR?

Some have been concerned that the city is trying to preserve old-fashioned, smoke-stack industry. This is not the case. The Planning Department has adopted the term Production, Distribution and Repair or PDR to refer to the very wide variety of activities which have traditionally occurred and still occur in our industrially zoned areas. PDR businesses and workers prepare our food and print our books; produce the sounds and images for our movies; take people to the airport; arrange flowers and set theatrical stages; build houses and offices; pick up our mail and garbage. PDR includes arts activities, performance spaces, furniture wholesaling, and design activities.

In general, PDR activities, occurring with little notice and largely in the Eastern Neighborhoods, provide critical support to the drivers of San Francisco's economy, including the tourist industry, high tech industry and financial and legal services, to name a few. PDR businesses also tend to provide stable and well-paying jobs for the 50% of San Francisco residents who do not have a college degree.

Why do PDR businesses need protection through zoning? There are several reasons why San Francisco, like many other large U.S. cities, is considering providing protection for PDR activities through zoning changes in some areas.

  1. Competition for land: San Francisco has very limited land available and because current zoning permits almost any activity in an industrial zone, residential and office uses, which can afford to pay far more to buy land, have been gradually displacing PDR activities.
  2. Land use conflicts: Some (though certainly not all) PDR businesses use large trucks, stay open late, make noise or emit odors. As residences and offices locate adjacent to these PDR businesses more frequently, conflicts arise, sometimes forcing the PDR businesses to curtail operations or even leave the city.