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One of the largest rising costs in housing development is the permitting. In San Francisco, local regulators are allowing a project to bypass strict environmental testing in exchange for a higher percentage of more affordable units.

A 130-unit family housing project proposed for the Mission District will be the first in San Francisco to take advantage of a new state law that allows developers to skip expensive and lengthy environmental review in exchange for building a certain amount of affordable apartments.

Last week Mission Economic Development Agency, known as MEDA, and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. submitted an application to invoke Senate Bill 35 at 681 Florida St., a site developer Nick Podell donated to the city as part of the community benefits package for his 195-unit, market rate development at 2000 Bryant St.

Under the law by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, developers of certain projects can bypass the environmental analysis typically required. In exchange for expedited approvals, the developer must commit to a certain percentage of permanently affordable units. The amount of affordable units ranges from 10 to 100 percent, depending on the community and how much housing it produces. In San Francisco, a developer looking to take advantage of SB35 must commit to making at least 50 percent of the units affordable.

The move to invoke SB35 is somewhat ironic because MEDA opposed the legislation, fearing it could exacerbate displacement and gentrification in some areas and that in some parts of the state the amount of affordable housing required is too low, just 10 percent.

“MEDA was — and remains — against SB35 as a one-size-fits-all policy of streamlining,” said MEDA Development Director Karoleen Feng.

But Feng said SB35 will cut the entitlement process on Florida Street by six months to a year. In addition, the project seeks to take advantage of HOME-SF, legislation passed last year that allows developers to build an extra two stories in exchange for increasing affordable levels.

Under HOME-SF, MEDA and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. will be able to increase the height on the building from 65 feet to 85 feet — allowing for 44 additional units.

“State density bonus gets you the height, and SB35 gets you the time,” Feng said.

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