The Zoning Administrator (ZA) administers and enforces the Planning Code of the City and County of San Francisco. The ZA advises the Director of Planning and Planning Commission on amendments to the Planning Code; monitors and maintains data related to the ongoing implementation of the Planning Code; and appears before the Board of Supervisors, Board of Appeals, Planning Commission and other bodies on Planning Code matters.
The ZA also hears and makes determinations on variance applications and provides written interpretations and clarifications of the Planning Code, such as Letters of Determination. Variance application determinations are presented at the monthly Zoning Variance Hearings.
The Zoning Administrator manages the Zoning and Compliance Teams and project-related activities within the department such as the Transportation Demand Management Program and the Office Allocation Annual Limitation Program.
Public hearings are held 4th Wednesday of every month at 9:30am in the Commission Chambers of City Hall and are open to the public. *
* Subject to restrictions on public gatherings which may require online participation – see specific hearing date for details. Excluding legal holidays and announced cancellations. Schedule subject to modification.
An audio archive of hearings going back to 2010 provides a listing of recorded hearings.
What is a Variance?
A variance is a request for an exception from a Planning Code standard which would cause practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship if applied as written. Most quantitative development standards are eligible for a variance request, but common requests include a variance from rear yard, open space, dwelling unit exposure, or parking requirements. Certain provisions of the Planning Code, such as height, sign and use requirements, are not variable.
The Zoning Administrator hears and makes determinations on variance applications. In order to grant a variance, the following findings must be met:
- That there are exceptional or extraordinary circumstances applying to the property involved or to the intended use of the property that do not apply generally to other property or uses in the same class of district;
- That owing to such exceptional or extraordinary circumstances, the literal enforcement of specified provisions of this Code would result in practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship not created by or attributable to the applicant or the owner of the property;
- That such variance is necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of a substantial property right of the subject property, possessed by other property in the same class of district;
- That the granting of such variance will not be materially detrimental to the public welfare or materially injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity; and
- That the granting of such variance will be in harmony with the general purpose and intent of this Code and will not adversely affect the Master Plan.
Letters of Determination
Letters of Determination (LOD) are a written response to a request regarding the classification of uses and the interpretation and applicability of the provisions of the Planning Code. They offer guidance as to whether a proposed project, such as a new building, an addition to an existing building, or a use change, conforms to the Planning Code (sometimes referred to as the Zoning Code).
An LOD may include a determination about whether a specific use is appropriate in a certain zoning district, or whether a certain use may retain its legal nonconforming status. They are requested by property owners, developers, architects, land use attorneys and members of the public, inquiring about the zoning regulations applicable to specific development proposals.
Letters of Determination are advisory only; upon issue, applicants still must obtain all applicable required building permits and/or certificates before a use can commence or a building can be built. In comparison to the Zoning Verification Letter, LOD’s are typically more complex and require further research on the part of the Planning Department.
Zoning Verification and Rebuild Letters
A Zoning Verification Letter (ZVL) is a written response to a request regarding the current land use and zoning for a specific property, including information on variances, special permits/exceptions, ordinances or conditions, and violations. This type of letter is more simplistic in nature than a Letter of Determination. A ZVL generally includes, but are not necessarily limited to, a Rebuild Letter.
A Rebuild Letter is a form of Zoning Verification Letter that states that a subject building can be restored to its original condition and use in the event the property is destroyed by fire or any other form of natural disaster. The fee for this type of letter is the same as the fee for a Zoning Verification Letter.