San Francisco News

Academy of Art facing fines for land-use violations

Thursday, January 31, 2013

San Francisco is cracking down on one of the city's biggest landowners. The Academy of Art University has been given deadlines to comply with land-use laws, or face stiff fines.

The Academy of Art University has grown from about 6,800 students in 2003 to more than 11,000 in 2011. And along the way, it's acquired property in which to house and teach those students.

It now owns 41 properties spread across 12 different San Francisco neighborhoods. But the city's planning department says about half those properties are in violation of land-use laws and that the school was first put on notice seven years ago.

"Our policy has always been if a client's trying to come into compliance we want to allow them to do that and we have been doing that for a long time," SF Planning Commissioner Mike Antonini said.

Planning Director John Rahaim finally gave the university a series of deadlines to meet, or face penalties of $26,000. One deadline was met last week -- another one was on track for Thursday.

"Today's deadlines we're negotiating one minor point but I'm confident we'll get it worked out by the end of the day," Rahaim said.

Land-use issues include using buildings designated for commercial business as a school, and converting residential hotels into student housing.

The other major hurdle is completing the environmental impact report, which includes studies of things like how its shuttles affect traffic, parking, and pollution.

The university says the delay is in part because it kept growing, and changing lawyers three or four times over five years could not have helped.

International powerhouse law firm Pillsbury came on board in November.

"We have discussed some issues with the planning department staff where we don't agree exactly on something but that's very common when you're dealing with things like air quality or greenhouse gases it can get a little complex," said Ron Van Buskirk with Pillsbury law firm.

The university's lawyer and the city agree -- the school seems to be on track for compliance with the environmental report done by this fall.

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