Planning Commission Votes To Preserve Zeitgeist’s Sunny Beer Garden

Planning Commission Votes To Preserve Zeitgeist’s Sunny Beer GardenPhoto: Rick Marr/Zeitgeist 
Alisa Scerrato
Published on February 17, 2017

Sun worshipers can rejoice—the Planning Commission voted yesterday to save Zeitgeist’s beer garden from a looming shadow.

As we reported last month, Sternberg Benjamin Architect’s plans to replace a one-story auto service shop at 198 Valencia St. with a five-story, 28-unit condo development were delayed by the city out of concerns that legacy business Zeitgeist would be negatively impacted by new shadows created by the development’s design.

Per the commission's request, the project sponsor returned to City Hall yesterday with additional shadow analyses measuring how reducing the building's height incrementally—up to five feet—would impact the beer garden's access to sunlight.

As the Chronicle notes, the shadow studies found that cutting five feet off the proposed building would decrease the amount of shadowing on Zeitgeist by just 2 percent a year. However, Zeitgeist representatives argued that 2 percent was enough to shade eight of the patio's large picnic tables during its busiest season.

More than a dozen supporters showed up to yesterday's hearing in defense of Zeitgeist, including employees and residents who live above the bar. 

Expressing concern that shadows would jeopardize the viability of the 40-year-old business, Lara Burmeister—daughter of owner Klaus Burmeister—told the commission that 65 percent of Zeitgeist's business comes between the hours of 4:30pm and 9pm. And when the sun is not shining on their beer garden, sales are reduced by 30 percent.

Lara Burmeister addressing the Planning Commission. | Photo: Alisa Scerrato/Hoodline

A few bartenders also stood at the podium to tell the commission that their income would be reduced significantly if the beer garden lost its sun. Of them, Issac Camner, a bartender who has worked at Zeitgeist for 17 years, said: “It’s clear that our yard is our livelihood.”

Other supporters declared Zeitgeist “one of the most important bars of San Francisco” and “an institution." One even cited Mark Twain's famous quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” to drive home the argument that sunny days are far and few in the city, but revered when they occur.

The commission’s ultimate decision yesterday requires the developer to reduce the condo development's height by five feet. The building's ground-floor retail spaces, originally planned to have 15-foot-high ceilings, will likely be where the height reductions occur.

Displeased with the idea of approving "substandard" retail spaces, Christine Johnson was the only commissioner to vote against the commission's changes to the plan.

Pointing to vacant storefronts in new developments around the city, Commissioner Rich Hillis voiced his support for the legacy business, stating: “I’d rather help Zeitgeist and existing businesses rather than a theoretical establishment that may be in the new building."

The Planning Commission also requested that the developer construct the building’s rooftop parapet with transparent materials, such as glass, further reducing any possible shadows on Zeitgeist’s backyard.

A rendering of the condo development across from Zeitgeist's beer garden. | Image: Prevision Design via SF Planning

Following the hearing, Lara Burmeister told Hoodline that she was very happy with the commission’s decision and what it means for the bar, which employs more than 40 people.

“The neighborhood is going to benefit from keeping a 40-year-old institution where people come from around the world to visit," she said. “We are pro-housing, and we tried very earnestly over the last six months to try to find an equitable solution."

Of the decision, Operations Manager Gideon Bush added, “I think we came to a nice balance where will get a little more sunlight and developers just have to make some small changes. Our whole goal through this was to be neighborly and work together with them, and I think we have accomplished that.”