Dolores Heights: A Lesson in Long Term Neighborhood Planning
By Joseph Lucier
The context of Dolores Heights, like the context of the city as a whole, is a tapestry that only grows more intriguing as new elements are added to the weave. The steep, 400-foot hill itself is more of a definition rather than a destination, framing Noe Valley to the south, Dolores Park to the east and the Castro to the west. From afar it's a rustle of walls and rooflines, green trees and straight asphalt. Many streets within Dolores Heights are dead-end cul-de-sacs connected by steep staircases with beautiful views. Ed Hardy, a resident and renowned antique dealer, happily notes that Dolores Heights remains "relatively warm, sunny and fog-free by virtue of Twin Peaks blocking the strong winds and fog found almost year-round in San Francisco."
Today this affluent and tranquil neighborhood is a mixture of Victorians, apartment buildings, and detached houses gently rolling down the hill to the recently renovated 13.7 acre Dolores Park that serves as the hub of neighborhood activity and leisure. But that was not always the case as "residents of the hill fought bitterly over location of the streets the city was preparing to cut into the sides of the hill," wrote The Chronicle in its 1958 piece describing the early 20th century in Dolores Heights. "Everyone wanted the paved street to be at the level of his house - not that of the house across the way, which might be 20 or 30 feet higher or lower." The result was that some streets are split by retaining walls between lanes. Others filled in on one side but not the other. While families in the area staked their claim with affection and care, mid-century builders slapped in product with no thought for their surroundings.
Now, new houses must align with the guidelines of the Dolores Heights Special Use District established on January 10, 1980 by the San Francisco Planning Commission "to encourage development in context and scale with established character and landscape.” Resolution #8472 further stated, “Dolores Heights is listed in the Urban Design Element of the Comprehensive Plan as one of five examples of outstanding and unique areas which contribute to San Francisco’s visual form and character and in which neighborhood associations should be encouraged to participate in the cooperative effort to maintain the established character.”
While this twelve block gem sits atop its protected perch, the neighboring Inner Mission district beats to the drum of the current tech boom as the latest invasion of cash flushed millionaires snap up real estate that is home to the city’s Mexican and Central American immigrants. Mark Zuckerberg’s purchase on 21st Street at Fair Oaks in 2012 signaled the beginning of this district's gentrification trend as developers have rushed in pushing property values upward to meet the demand of “time constrained” techies who have an insatiable appetite for move-in condition homes.
CaenLucier tip: While there is still much value growth potential for the Inner Mission neighborhood, we recommend that savvy, long term investors dive in while the property values have yet to skyrocket the way they have in Noe Valley over the past decade.