The role of the Zoning Administrator (ZA) is to administer and enforce the Planning Code of the City & County of San Francisco. Duties and responsibilities of the ZA include:
- holding Variance Hearings to provide a public venue for the review of variance applications
- 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
- releasing Bulletins to issue and adopt such rules, regulations and interpretations as are in the Zoning Administrator's opinion, necessary to administer and enforce the provisions of the Planning Code per Section 307 of the Planning Code
- monitoring and maintaining data related to the ongoing implementation of the Planning Code
- appearing before the Board of Supervisors, Board of Appeals, Planning Commission and other bodies on Planning Code matters
The Zoning Administrator also manages the Planning Department's Zoning and Compliance Teams.
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.
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.
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.
The most common type of document issued by the ZA is a Letter of Determination (LOD) written in 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.
LOD's are typically comprehensive and detailed, requiring research on the part of the Planning Department.
Zoning Verification Letters
A Zoning Verification Letter (ZVL) is a signed letter confirming the zoning details of a property (the current land use and zoning for a specific property, including information on variances, special permits/exceptions, ordinances or conditions, and violations).
A ZVL generally includes, but is not necessarily limited to, a Rebuild Letter, which 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.
Determine which Letter you wish to request:
- Letter of Determination (LOD)
Include or attach any additional information that may provide aid in analysis of the subject property, which may include Building Permit records, copies of leases if applicable, and other documents that provide further insight into the submitted request.
It takes 6-8 weeks (or more) to process this type of request.
- Zoning Verification Letter (ZVL)
Include any specific language or information in the letter.
It takes 1-2 weeks to process this type of request.
There are two options to apply:
or submit in writing via mail to:
Office of the Zoning Administrator
1650 Mission Street, Suite 400
San Francisco, CA 94103
If you wish to submit through writing, please include a check for the required amount, as indicated in the Fee Schedule, available at our website (see Section 5 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
Office of the Zoning Administrator
1650 Mission Street, Ste 400
San Francisco, CA 94103