A full 75 percent of all Academy of Art buildings are currently illegal, city planning report shows

This chart shows the nine properties operated by AAU than can't be made legal under current zoning laws
This chart shows the nine properties operated by AAU than can’t be made legal under current zoning laws

By Tim Redmond

SEPTEMBER 29, 2015 — The City Planning Department will hear a report on one of the most flagrant land-use scofflaws in San Francisco Thursday/1 – and the evidence presented in the staff report is stunning.

The report, which you can read here, shows that there are nine properties operated by the Academy of Art University that are not currently legal – and that can’t be made legal under existing codes.

In other words, the city would have to change its current planning laws to allow AAU to continue using those properties for student housing and institutional school use.

In fact, a full 75 percent of the buildings the school owns or leases are currently illegal. (Socketsite has a nice chart here.)

AAU is developing an institutional master plan, which it’s required to present to the planners. But in the meantime, the school doesn’t seem to have a problem taking existing apartments, adding a lot more beds, and turning them into student dorms – or taking light-industrial property and turning it into classrooms.

Only 10 of the school’s 40 properties currently follow existing law.

The city has known about this for years; in fact, the Planning Department has filed notices of violation for 22 sites. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has weighed in, but still most of the sites are in violation. (Check out that link and the picture of Mayor Ed Lee and former Mayor Willie Brown celebrating with the school’s president if you wander why this is happening.)

So the Planning Department has to either (1) recommend that the zoning laws are changed all over town to allow student housing in areas that are zoned for lower density dwellings and allow school uses to displace light industrial, or (2) force this giant institution to make dramatic changes to its citywide campus, including shutting down some dorms and classrooms.

There will be no action this week; it’s just a presentation. But the commissioners ought to have some questions for AAU and for staff, starting with: How long is this going to continue?