Industrial Zoning a Foothold for Amazon Distribution Centers in San Francisco

Locals aren't happy about Amazon's numerous new distribution facilities in San Francisco, but all of the new facilities are all perfectly legal under the city's zoning code—much more legal than housing, for example.

2 minute read

February 21, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

An Amazon sign adorns a brick building that implies an urban location.

Amazon's office in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco isn't built like the distribution centers that dot the city's southeast edges. | Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

J.K. Dineen reports (in a paywalled article for the San Francisco Chronicle) on a growing political controversy over Amazon's footprint in San Francisco. The story is directly related to the city's zoning code—specifically, the city's Production, Distribution, and Repair (PDR) zoning designation.

"Amazon has been gobbling up space throughout the southeast corner of the city, taking advantage of zoning meant to preserve blue-collar jobs in a market in which housing and office space have typically generated higher revenues," explains Dineen.

There's a new UltraFastFresh logistics center at  888 Tennessee Street, at the foot of a slow street and across from Esprit Park. There's a 75,000-square-foot warehouse 435 23rd Street and a 112,000-square-foot delivery hub at 749 Toland Street. "But Amazon’s biggest and most controversial incursion into San Francisco is a proposed 725,000-square-foot delivery hub at 900 Seventh St., a 6-acre rectangular parcel in Showplace Square that Amazon bought for $200 million," reports Dineen. Day time workers at the delivery hub have generated 2,800 car trips, according to neighbors quoted in the article.

San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton announced new legislation that would enact an 18-month moratorium on all new parcel delivery services in the city. The moratorium would essentially void the city's own zoning. In a separate article for the San Francisco Standard, Kevin Truong details Walton's legislation, noting that the ordinance would require conditional use authorization for new delivery services.

The other zoning catch: the Seventh Street distribution center is only there because a previous housing development was rejected by local stakeholders.

"But while a busy distribution center may feel out of sync with Showplace Square’s current vibe, it is in fact just what city zoning calls for. And [the previous owner of the site] decided to sell the site only after neighbors had rejected its 2018 plan to build about 1,000 units of housing there," explains Dineen.

San Francisco is embroiled in almost continuous controversy about housing development—most recently manifesting in a vacancy tax proposed by one of the city's most consistently anti-development supervisors.

More details about Amazon's expanding footprint in San Francisco, and the local response, can be found in the source article below. For more background on Amazon's growing footprint in the real estate market and its impacts on the land uses and transportation systems of U.S. cities, see the Fulfillment Centers tag on Planetizen.

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