Unfortunately (or fortunately) for developer and former president of the city's Building Inspection Commission Mel Murphy, a house he was renovating at 125 Crown Terrace collapsed Monday night around 10:30, as the Chron is reporting.

The collapse, which sent the house tumbling partially down the steep eastern Twin Peaks hill it sits on, forced the evacuation of one next-door home as well. The cause of the collapse is still not known, but here's where it gets interesting: This same house was the subject of a whole exposé last year by SF Weekly's Joe Eskanazi regarding a loophole in city planning codes that allows developers to avoid getting demolition approval for a small structure so long as they maintained some "exterior elements" of it, allowing a guy like Murphy to take this tiny 854 square-foot home and "renovate" it into a 5,000-square-foot mansion with a million-dollar view.

According to Trulia the property last sold in 2006 for $850,000. It's now estimated to be worth $1.25 million despite only being 854 square feet, with three rooms and one bath, built in 1941.

As SF Weekly noted, though, what Murphy was doing following being denied a demolition permit, was to deem his 5,000-square-foot rebuild an "alteration." And this is perfectly okay by current city rules.

Per the planning code, a building undergoing a renovation must retain a percentage of its "exterior elements" to avoid the declaration of a demolition...[But] these elements — the very portions of a residence retained specifically to avoid triggering a demolition — can themselves be taken down and replaced. This can be undertaken even if only to bolster otherwise sturdy walls in order to support the much larger structure to be built atop them. The possibility exists to essentially dismantle an entire structure, erect a new, far bigger one, and deem the action an "alteration."

"This is tortured beyond a Kafka novel," fumes former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a strong backer of the '08 ordinance. His onetime colleague, former Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, avoids literary allusions: "It's bullshit, bullshit, total horseshit. A total deception."

Despite its professed zeal for preventing demolitions, San Francisco appears to have demolished the definition of what a demolition is.

Murphy, 67, is a partner in Murphy & O'Brien Real Estate Investments, formerly served on the Building Inspection Commission, once as its president, and currently serves as director of the Coalition for Responsible Growth. He's an Ed Lee supporter and donor, as the Chron notes.

Murphy's neighbor on Crown Terrace, Ramona Albright, has been eagerly trying to appeal Murphy's permits on various grounds, but as of March the Board of Appeals was still siding with Murphy. There's an online petition here, dating back to 2009 with 25 signatures from nearby neighbors, devoted to this project.

Looks like the battle might be moot now.

[SF Weekly]