Duboce historic district moves forward

  • by Pat Tura
  • Wednesday May 15, 2013
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Houses in the proposed Duboce Park Historic District<br>directly abut the parkland in an arrangement very unusual for San Francisco.(Photo: Rick Gerharter)<br><br>
Houses in the proposed Duboce Park Historic District
directly abut the parkland in an arrangement very unusual for San Francisco.(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

On May 13 the land use committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the recommendation of the Duboce Park Historic District. This proposal will go onto the full board for a final vote. In addition, the historic preservation commission and the planning commission have also unanimously approved this pending designation. The Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association has also been a strong supporter of the proposal.

The blocks surrounding Duboce Park lay claim to one of the most intact collections of Victorian architecture in the city. Eighty-one of the district's 90 buildings are "contributing" historical resources. Largely constructed between 1899-1902, the proposed district contains excellent examples of residential buildings designed by master Victorian-era builders, including Fernando Nelson. The Duboce Park neighborhood was identified and documented as eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and was added to the planning department's Landmark Designation Work Program in 2011. This process was part of the Market/Octavia plan, which up-zoned many areas within the district. DNTA played a key role in working with Supervisor Scott Wiener, and the planning department for the proposed designation.

Only a small portion of land in San Francisco is protected by some sort of landmarking or historic designation, just 1.38 percent according to recent figures. Currently, the area north of Duboce Park, Golden Gate Park, and a group of eight masonry buildings on Market Street are the only new districts proposed. The Duboce Park historic district would be only the 12th in the city. There are 261 individual landmarks in San Francisco.

The process has been balanced, tailored, and fair with input from everyone involved. With nine community events in 18 months the designation has been tailored to the community's interest. The planning department's drafted ordinance streamlines project approval and exempts entire classes of projects from historic review altogether. It is the most permissive set of rules for property owners of any of the historic districts in the city.

For many items, such as replacing a garage door, a primary facade window, a non-visible rear facade window, or replacing solar panels and related structures and roof replacement, the current review process is unchanged and there are not additional fees. Only front stairs, dormers and additions not visible from the street will require an administrative review by planning department staff. The intent of administrative review is to ensure that the design of these highly visible building elements are compatible to the building and the neighborhood as a whole. For dormers and additions that are visible from the street, the current review process will be amended to require a hearing before the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. This is the only change that would require the oversight of the commission. Dormers and additions without oversight could potentially comprise the architectural integrity of a building.

The community asked for financial relief for continued investment in preservation and Wiener made the Mills Act available to those property owners within the district. The Mills Act is widely considered the most important financial incentive for preservation. Some cities, such as Los Angeles and San Diego, boast hundreds of Mills Act contracts. It is expected that the recent amendments sponsored by Wiener to San Francisco's Mills Act program will vastly expand access to and implementation of this valuable financial incentive. The Mills Act primarily benefits more recent property owners, who pay much higher property taxes than longer-term residents. The most significant property tax savings are realized by owners of property purchased within the last 10 years.

Wiener requested that the planning department conduct an official survey, which is not required in the proposed designation. The response was 35 percent of the participants approved the proposal. Some residents later conducted their own survey and then wanted to city to redo the official survey. The comprehensive process developed by planning was accepted by the city as truth and fact.

The process has been a lengthy, collaborative community engagement. Some of the residents who have been the stewards for this resource may oppose the proposal, however, we can agree that preservation is important to the city. This designation is consistent with the general plan of the city and preservation is as important in the plan as housing and the arts. Preserving the architectural fabric of the Duboce Park area is part of the character that defines our city. People love to come to San Francisco for its beauty and character. We are experiencing a building boom in the Upper Market Corridor, which also started with the up-zoning element of the Market/Octavia plan. Upper Market speaks to the new urban lifestyle of San Francisco with currently six cranes in the sky, which will soon turn into large-scale residential buildings. It is this contrast of the historic and the modern that attracts residents and visitors and creates diverse neighborhoods. We need to preserve this historical resource for San Francisco and all the visitors who come here for our unique architectural character.

 

Pat Tura is president of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association.