Leather bars on Folsom and 11th streets have been tied up by zoning rules that deny their entertainment permits because of an old “200-foot buffer” rule, but the SF Board of Supervisors removed those handcuffs Tuesday.
Folsom Street, and the larger South of Market neighborhood, have been an anchor of queer community culture since the 1960s. They gave birth to the Folsom Street Fair and Dore Alley Fair in the 1980s, and the neighborhood was officially declared the Leather LGBTQ Cultural District in 2018.
This makes it sound like a great neighborhood for bars and nightlife, but that's not always true. Thanks to an obscure provision in some 2013 legislation called the Western SoMa Neighborhood Plan, there has to be a 200-foot buffer between any permitted “entertainment” use and residential households. That obscure rule almost derailed Oasis before it even opened in 2014, though Oasis got an exemption and opened in early 2015. Still, the 200-foot buffer rule remained on the books, keeping leather bars restrained.
"The current zoning does not allow for any new nightlife and entertainment venues, essentially, in most of SoMa,” Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District executive director Bob Goldfarb told the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee last month.
The district’s supervisor Matt Dorsey called it a “de facto moratorium on new entertainment” in the historic leather bar neighborhood, so he introduced what he called a “much-needed Planning code update.” And on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass that update, and eliminate the 200-foot buffer on the most significant nightlife corridors of the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District.
“One may be surprised to learn that in a neighborhood that has a history of bars and entertainment, new establishments are not permitted, and existing establishments are not able to get entertainment permits,” Dorsey told the Land Use Committee when he introduced the measure in January.
This measure does not eliminate the 200-foot buffer rule for all of SoMa; it only applies to certain streets. Per the legislation, it removes the entertainment permit restrictions on “Folsom Street between 7th Street and Division Street,” as well as “11th Street between Howard Street and Division Street.”
In Sup. Dorsey’s words, “This ordinance will have an immediate impact on businesses my office has been in contact with, who have failed to get entertainment permits because of their grandfathered zoning.” He did not mention which businesses. But still, there will probably be more nightlife at SoMa leather bars without those hard limits in play with the zoning regulations.
Image: Kevin Y via Yelp