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Council passes demolition reforms, promises more action

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The City Council unanimously approved changes to the residential demolition process intended to address growing neighborhood outrage about the increasing number of infill projects.

All five of the council members promised the changes were just the first step toward resolving numerous issues raised by neighborhood and preservation activists, including the fact that the replacement houses are larger and more expensive than the ones they replace.

Homebuilders say they are only meeting market demand, and many of them sell before they are even completed. But the activists complain they are out of character with surrounded homes and are reduce the amount of affordable housing.

"We all know the Joni Mitchell song that says you don't know what you've got until it's gone, and we have neighborhoods we don't want to lose," said Mayor Charlie Hales, who is working with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability on projects to consider such issues in next year's budget.

The measure was introduced by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of the Bureau of Development Services, which issues demolition and construction permits. It was developed by a BDS advisory committee and some of the activists, including representatives of the grassroots United Neighborhoods for Reform group.

Among other things, the measure keeps an existing 35-day delay on all demolitions, allows anyone to request an additional 60-day extension for any house of significance to a neighborhood, allows the $1,318 extension application fee to be waived for neighborhood associations, and provides for fundraising plans to be developed during the extension.

Future proposals discussed by the council included a demolition fee to help fund affordable housing projects. Commissioner Dan Saltzman said it will be taken up by the Housing Bureau, which he oversees.

Commissioner Nick Fish also asked Fritz to brief him on BDS policies related to hazardous materials in houses being demolished — including asbestos and lead-based paint chips — to ensure they are being properly handled.