The Zoning Administrator (ZA) administers and enforces the Planning Code of the City & County of San Francisco. Duties and responsibilities of the ZA include: hearing and making determinations on variance applications; providing written interpretations and clarifications of the Planning Code; advising the Director of Planning and Planning Commission on amendments to the Planning Code; monitoring and maintaining data related to the ongoing implementation of the Planning Code; and appearing before the Board of Supervisors, Board of Appeals, Planning Commission and other bodies on Planning Code matters. The ZA also manages the Planning Department's Zoning and Compliance Teams.
Scott Sanchez is Zoning Administrator for the Planning Department and has expertise in the San Francisco Planning Code, code enforcement, neighborhood planning, project review and planning processes. Scott began his career at the San Francisco Planning Department as an intern at the Planning Information Center (PIC), later working in the Department's Neighborhood Planning and Code Enforcement divisions. Passionate and committed to public service with an acute interest in the technical and legal aspects of land use, Scott deeply respects the effort required to ensure planning goals are realized, and works diligently to achieve that goal.
Zoning Administrator Written Determinations
The Zoning Administrator issues determination letters resulting from requests by property owners, developers, architects, land use attorneys and members of the public inquiring about the zoning regulations applicable to specific development proposals. These letters offer guidance to requesting parties 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).
Once these letters are issued, applicants still must obtain all applicable required building permits and/or certificates before a use can commence or a building can be built.
About Letters of Determination
A Letter of Determination (LOD) is a written response to a request regarding the classification of uses and the interpretation and applicability of the provisions of the Planning 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.
In comparison to the Zoning Verification Letter, LOD’s are typically more complex and require further research on the part of the Planning Department.
Click here to view the archive of Zoning Administrator Letters of Determination
About Zoning Verification 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 the 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 ZVL.
Letters of Determination and Zoning Conformance Letters may be appealed to the Board of Appeals within fifteen (15) days after the date of issuance. For further information, please contact the San Francisco Board of Appeals at 1650 Mission Street, Room 304, telephone (415) 575-6880, or visit their website.
How to Apply and Applicable Fees
Requests for a Letter of Determination and a Zoning Verification Letter should be submitted in writing using your company letterhead addressed and mailed to:
Office of the Zoning Administrator
1650 Mission Street, Suite 400
San Francisco, CA 94103
Please outline your request or question and include the Property Address and Block & Lot if available.
For Letters of Determination, please also include or attach any additional information that may provide aid in analysis of the subject property. These items may include Building Permit records, copies of leases if applicable, and various other documents that provide further insight into the question being posed. It takes 6-8 weeks (or more) to process this type of request depending on the workload of the assigned Planner.
For Zoning Verification Letters, we use a standard letter response. If you wish to include a specific language or information on the letter, please specify that in your letter request. It takes 1-2 weeks to process this type of request.
Please make sure to include a check for the required amount. Please refer to the Planning Department Fee Schedule available at our website; see Section 6 – Miscellaneous Fees, Item J.
If you do not have access to a computer, our Fee Schedule is also available at the Planning Information Center (PIC) located at the First Floor, 1660 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103; Telephone Number: (415) 558-6377.
What is a Variance?
A variance is a request for an exception from the quantitative standards of the Planning Code, such as rear yard, front setback and parking, but not limited to open space, dwelling unit exposure, mass reduction, permitted obstruction and the like. 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.
Purpose of Variance Hearings
The Zoning Administrator holds Variance Hearings to provide a public venue for the review of variance applications in accordance with the requirements of the Planning Code. Notifications of Variance Hearings are provided by mail to owners within 300 feet of the subject property (10 days before the hearing) and by posting on the subject property (20 days before the hearing). Members of the public who cannot attend a Variance Hearing may submit comments in writing or by telephone to the staff planner listed on the notification.
What to Expect at a Variance Hearing
The Zoning Administrator typically holds Variance Hearings on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 9:30 a.m., in San Francisco City Hall, Room 408. City Hall is located at One Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102. Hearings are open to the public.
View Agendas for Upcoming Variance Hearings
At the hearing, the Project Sponsor (Variance Applicant) will be given 5 minutes to present their case, including relevant testimony and evidence. The hearing room is equipped with a projector that can display photographs, architectural plans or other drawings and images. Members of the public will be given 3 minutes each to speak on the item. If a member of the public speaks against an item, the Project Sponsor will be given a 3 minute rebuttal.
Please note that some items may appear on the "Consent Calendar." These items are considered routine and may be granted by the Zoning Administrator. There is no separate discussion of consent items unless the Zoning Administrator, member of the public or staff so requests, in which event the matter is removed from the Consent Calendar and will be moved to the Regular Calendar in the Agenda.
After all of the testimony is submitted, the Zoning Administrator will consider the evidence, deliberate, and either make a decision, take the matter under advisement, or continue the matter in order for additional information to be presented.
No decision is final until a Variance Decision Letter is issued. Due to the overwhelming number of Variance cases, decision letters may take up to 2 months to complete from the date of the hearing. The Zoning Administrator's action (to grant or deny) a variance application may be appealed to the Board of Appeals within 10 days of the date of the Decision Letter. For more information on how to file an appeal, please contact the Board of Appeals in person at 1650 Mission Street, Suite 304, call (415) 575-6880, or visit the San Francisco Board of Appeals website.
Each hearing ends with public comment, at which time members of the public may address the Zoning Administrator for up to 3 minutes on items of interest to the public that are within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Zoning Administrator, except agenda items. With respect to agenda items, your opportunity to address the Zoning Administrator will be afforded when the item is reached during the meeting.
Audio Recordings of Variance Hearings (dating back to June 2010) are available here.
Scott Sanchez, Zoning Administrator
Office of the Zoning Administrator
1650 Mission Street, Ste 400
San Francisco, CA 94103