Following on Forbes Magazine's recent takedown of the Academy of Art University and their fast-and-looseness with real estate zoning, and in anticipation of their long-delayed Environmental Impact Report, the Planning Department has issued a new report that breaks down the uses, legal and illegal, of the AAU's 40 buildings citywide. It turns out that of the 40, only 10 are being used for purposes that their currently approved for, while 30 are operating illegally, many of them as student housing. The city is sensitive to the loss of residential space that this represents, and as Socketsite notes, there are nine properties that could not even be approved for their new uses under current planning code.
The Planning Department will therefore be seeking Planning Commission guidance next week regarding whether they should make amendments to the code to allow the AAU to continue using these buildings as-is.
Also among the illegal buildings is their 74,000-square-foot classroom facility at 601 Brannan Street which is zoned as Light Industrial and would require a legislative amendment to be changed.
As you likely know by now, the for-profit university rapidly expanded from having a student population of 2,200 in 1992 to having 18,000 students at its peak in 2011. With that growth came a flurry of real estate acquisitions making the AAU one of the biggest property owners in the city. The family of school president Elisa Stephens, whose grandfather founded the school for "advertising art" 86 years ago, has also become wildly rich in the process, and critics suggest that the school's low graduation rate and reportedly low rate of job placements for graduates should make everyone question the school's legitimacy.
The Planning Commission will be considering the issue of the AAU's 30 illegal buildings something they've known about for at least five years once again at their meeting on Thursday, October 1. The AAU's Environmental Impact Report is not expected to be certified until April 2016.