WHAT IS A DISCRETIONARY REVIEW?
The Planning Commission has discretion over all building permit applications. Normally, this discretion is delegated to the Planning Department, which approves applications that meet
the minimum standards of the Planning Code, including the General Plan priority policies of Section 101.1 and Design Guidelines.
From time to time the Commission will review a permit application. As part of their discretionary powers, they can require the permit applicant to make changes to the project. This process of Commission consideration is commonly known as “Discretionary Review” or simply DR. By filing a DR application, a member of the public is asking the Commission to exercise its discretionary power, effectively taking a second look at the proposed project.
Discretionary Review is a special power of the Commission, outside the normal building permit application approval process. It is to be used only when there are exceptional and extraordinary circumstances associated with a proposed project. The Commission has been advised by the City Attorney that the Commission’s discretion is sensitive and must be exercised with utmost constraint.
WHEN CAN A DISCRETIONARY REVIEW BE FILED?
If no resolution is achieved between neighbors or with the help of Department staff, or Community Board mediation services, concerned parties may choose to file a DR. By filing a DR, the project will not be approved at the end of the building permit notification period, and instead, the project will be decided by the Planning Commission at a public hearing, where they will approve, disapprove or require modifications to the project. This hearing will typically occur within 12 weeks after the close of the building permit notification period. The Commission will make its decision based on the staff analysis, materials submitted by the permit applicant, DR requester, and other interested parties, as well as testimony at the Commission hearing.
WHO MAY APPLY FOR A DISCRETIONARY REVIEW AND WHEN CAN ONE APPLY?
Once the assigned planner determines the minimum standards are met and the project is approvable, the Department will mail a notice to residents and property owners within 150 feet of the subject property, as well as registered neighborhood organizations. The notification period provides neighbors with the opportunity to assess the project and determine whether the project creates or contains any exceptional and extraordinary circumstances. If a member of the public or a neighborhood organization would like the Commission to assert their discretionary powers, a DR should be filed within the building permit notification period. Once a DR is requested, a hearing date will be set by the Planning Department within 12 weeks.
In addition to requesting discretionary review by the Planning Commission, one may appeal the issuance of the building permit to the Board of Appeals. Such an appeal may be filed within 15 days of the date of permit issuance. (Permits are officially issued by the Department of Building Inspection’s Central Permit Bureau (415.558.6070), this issuance comes well after the Planning Department’s approval of the project.)
Applicants requesting Discretionary Review must fill out the Discretionary Review application and submit it in person at the Planning Information Center, 1660 Mission Street, first floor, with the required materials along with a check, money order or debit/credit for the required intake fee amount (please consult with current fee schedule). The application will not be accepted by mail, messenger or at the Planning Department reception desk. Attach additional pages as necessary, labeling all additional pages with the address of the property for which you are requesting Discretionary Review. Please number each page accordingly. You must provide each of the following to accompany your Discretionary Review application. Please answer all questions fully. Please type or print in ink and attach pages if necessary.
Please provide the following materials with the application:
Discretionary Review Application: If you are acting as an authorized agent, please indicate the name of the party you represent in the appropriate section. You should answer all the questions on the application. Include specific reasons for requesting Discretionary Review and a clear description of the proximity of your property to the subject site. Be as specific as possible, especially in describing issues of concern. List all concerns and explain fully all projected impacts on surrounding properties, alternatives to the project, suggested changes to the project or other measures that would reduce the potential impacts. It is important to suggest reasonable alternatives, recognizing that the permit applicant normally would be allowed to build their project as originally proposed.
A copy of the completed Discretionary Review Application will be sent to the permit applicant of whose project you are requesting discretionary review.
Photographs: Please include photographs of both the subject site and surrounding street frontages that are helpful in demonstrating your concerns. Please show the existing and anticipated neighborhood impact. Photographs should be adequate in size to show the nature of the property. In addition, please include photos showing specific concerns. Identify on the back of the photo the address of the buildings photographed, including the subject site and the point from which the photograph was taken.
If you are aware of relevant covenants or deed restrictions on the property relevant to the subject of this Application, describe these restrictions, or submit a copy and indicate their expiration date, if any. (Note: covenants bind the owner, not the City.)
In making this application for DR, you are requesting that the Planning Commission exercise control over a project that meets the zoning standards applicable to the subject site. The Commission only does this where exceptional and extraordinary circumstances exist. As part of DR reform, the Commission defined exceptional and extraordinary circumstances as the following:
“Exceptional and extraordinary circumstances occur where the common-place application of adopted design standards to a project does not enhance or conserve neighborhood character, or balance the right to develop the property with impacts on near-by properties or occupants. These circumstances may arise due to complex topography, irregular lot configuration, unusual context or other conditions not addressed in the design standards.”
The burden of showing why a project that meets the minimum standards should be denied or modified rests with the DR Applicant. Consequently, you must make your request to the Planning Commission clear and concise. In addition to the written statement provided in your application, you may submit other materials that help prove your case. (Please keep submissions to 8.5” by 11”.) All plans, photographs and other exhibits submitted with this application will be retained as part of the permanent public record.
Supplemental materials for the Commission to review in addition to the initial DR application. The supplemental materials shall be submitted on 8 1/2” x 11” (folded 11” x 17” reduced plans may also be accepted).
Materials may be submitted directly to the Commission the day of the hearing.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Chapter 31 of the San Francisco Administrative Code implementing that act may require an Environmental Evaluation before the application may be considered. Please consult the Planning Department staff to determine if an Environmental Evaluation application must be submitted with this application. A separate fee is required for environmental review.
Planning Commission Hearing Timeline
- Eight (8) weeks prior to hearing: Project Sponsor submits project response to issues raised by the DR requester with graphics (plans, renderings, etc.) to DR Coordinator.
- Six (6) weeks prior to hearing: project is reviewed at the Department’s design review team.
- Two (2) weeks prior to hearing: Deadline for submittal of public comment to be included in the Department’s staff report to the Commission.
- One (1) week prior to hearing: DR Coordinator delivers complete staff report packet to the Planning Commission Secretary.
Additional Information About Discretionary Review
The Planning Commission may use its discretionary powers to review any building permit application that meets the minimum requirements and standards of the Planning Code and adopted Design Guidelines, if the Commission judges that action on the application is necessary to ensure that the interests of the City and its neighborhoods are protected. Any concerned party may request discretionary review by filing the appropriate application with the Planning Department. However, the Commission reserves this power for exceptional and extraordinary circumstances, generally involving conflicts with the City’s General Plan and the Planning Code Priority Policies
The Planning Commission derives its discretionary review authority from San Francisco’s Municipal Code under the Business & Tax Regulations Code, Article 1 Permit Procedures, Section 26 (a). The authority to review permit applications that meet the minimum standards applicable under the Planning Code is set forth by City Attorney Opinion No. 845, dated May 26, 1954. The opinion states that the authority for the exercise of discretionary review is “a sensitive discretion...which must be exercised with the utmost restraint” to permit the Commission “to deal in a special manner with exceptional cases.” Therefore, discretionary review should be exercised only when exceptional and extraordinary cases apply to the proposed construction, and modifications required only where the project would result in a significant impact to the public interest. The City Attorney’s Opinion was reviewed in 1979 and re-affirmed with Opinion No. 79-29, dated April 30, 1979, and the power of Discretionary Review has been upheld in the courts.