San Francisco DMV site now open to plans for hundreds of homes

The site of the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ San Francisco field office could be redeveloped into hundreds of homes — a possibility one step closer to reality as of Thursday.

The DMV, alongside the state departments of General Services and Housing and Community Development, issued a request for qualifications Sept. 28 from development teams interested in redeveloping the 2.5-acre property at 1377 Fell St. for a mixed-use project that would include a new field office as well as housing. The issuance comes after the state began exploring interest in the property’s redevelopment at the beginning of this year. Developers have until Nov. 22 to respond.

The state’s request does not specify a minimum or maximum unit count for the DMV site, which is state-owned and therefore not subject to San Francisco zoning codes. But responses to the state’s request for information issued in January suggested between 300 and 500 homes at the site, said Supervisor Dean Preston, whose district includes the property and who has been advocating for the creation of affordable housing there since the end of last year.

The RFQ does not mandate a 100% affordable project, but requires that proposals for the site maximize “the depth and breadth” of affordable housing there while maintaining financial feasibility. The department also said previously that any new project at 1377 Fell would need to include 110 parking spaces, the quantity currently offered by the existing field office, which was built more than 60 years ago and is today grappling with seismic and structural issues.

The state had previously proposed and budgeted for the demolition and replacement of the existing field office, Preston said Friday, calling the shift toward residential development significant for the surrounding neighborhoods.

A project with between 300 and 500 units would make for the largest residential development in the area, at least in modern history, he said. A resolution passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at the beginning of this year in support of a 100% affordable housing project at the DMV site described it as among the few large-scale development opportunities in the geographic center of San Francisco, and a chance to build more affordable housing outside of the newer neighborhoods in the city’s south and east which already have significant construction activity.

This is not the first time the state has eyed 1377 Fell for housing: in 2008, it selected San Francisco developer Build Inc. to enter into a long-term ground lease for the site with the goal of raising both housing and a new field office there. Build was ultimately unable to make the project work, according to public records. 

The state expects to select a developer in the first quarter of next year, it said in the request for qualifications. That development entity, like Build before it, would likely enter into a long-term, low-cost ground lease. The state’s goal to have an operational field office on the site by May 2027. The Department of General Services, which oversees state-owned property, will serve as the permitting agency for any future project there.

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