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Castro Business In Hot Water Over Illegal Use Of Commercial Space

Castro Business In Hot Water Over Illegal Use Of Commercial Space
Photos: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
By Steven Bracco - Published on October 09, 2015.

Tipster Marten wrote in to let us know about a mysterious business at 4035 18th St., in the former Q Cuts space. It recently underwent a lengthy remodel, with residential space up top and commercial space on the bottom. Since the project's completion, a business has moved into the street-level space, but its lack of signage, not to mention frosted windows, has raised some questions as to what's going on inside.

The building's owner, Thanh Phan, said he was unaware of a recent change in code, which requires professional-services businesses operating out of commercial spaces in certain areas of District 8 to seek a conditional use authorization from the Planning Department.

The amended code requires that limited financial service and business/professional uses obtain conditional-use authorization in the Castro, 24th Street/Noe Valley, Upper Market, and on Market Street west of Octavia Blvd. District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener proposed the new requirements back in January; it was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors and ultimately enacted by Mayor Ed Lee in February. 

4035 18th St. received a complaint about illegal use in July. The San Francisco Planning Department determined that an illegal change-of-use had indeed occurred, and Phan would need to seek a conditional-use authorization.

Phan, a longtime Castro resident and former owner of Cafe Luna (now Fable), told us that an insurance business is currently occupying the space, but declined to give its name or contact information.

"At the time when I leased the building to the current tenants, I was unaware of the requirement to obtain conditional use authorization," he said. "We are currently trying to remedy this problem by going through all the necessary steps."

Phan said he has hired Design Consultants Group, Inc. to assist in obtaining the proper permits. He submitted paperwork for conditional use on September 20th, which is now being reviewed by the Planning Department. From there, he'll be assigned to a planner and given a hearing date.

Business entrance with no signage and frosted windows.

We also visited the business in person. While speaking with a representative at its front door, we could see a functioning office with multiple people present inside. However, the representative declined to provide his name, and also refused to comment on the business' name or field. "You should talk to the building owner," he said. 

As for the Castro Merchants, "this is the first we'd heard of plans for CU-required financial services at the address," administrator Richard Magery said. 

The city's Office of the Treasurer informed us that there was currently no record on file for any registration, permit, or license at 4035 18th St. But despite the lack of registration, a Planning Department communications manager informed us that a business is allowed to continue operating once a violation has been found, "as long as the company is actively working to come into compliance, and there is no evidence of negligence (meaning they knowingly ignored the conditional use requirement)."

"The process of obtaining CU can take anywhere from 3-6 months," Wiener's aide, Andres Power, said. "It's up to the Planning Department to determine if this business is both necessary and desirable in order to receive approval."

Regardless of the outcome, don't expect a restaurant to move in, as has been rumored. "The building is not zoned for a restaurant," Phan said.