SF Masonic’s NIMBYs

San Francisco’s Nob Hill Masonic Center and Live Nation cleared a major hurdle erected by neighborhood NIMBYs when the city’s board of appeals voted in January to uphold a prior zoning decision confirming the venue has been operating lawfully since 1958 as an assembly and entertainment venue.

Neighborhood groups had challenged the building’s status, opposing public uses of the Masonic Center – which includes an annual statewide gathering of Freemasons – coinciding with the venue’s agreement with Live Nation to manage the building.

But the battle isn’t over. A conditional use permit application is pending before the S.F. planning commission that would allow Live Nation to make upgrades, including the installation of new kitchen equipment and concession areas to facilitate higher end food and beverage options for patrons.

Additionally, Live Nation plans to remove the fixed seating on the main floor of the auditorium and replace it with terraced floor levels to accommodate seated and standing viewing, as well as cabaret and table seating.

That hearing was to take place Feb. 11 and, according to a joint statement from Live Nation and the Masonic Center, was expected to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors if the CUP is approved.

The city’s zoning administrator issued a “letter of determination” Sept. 10 that confirmed the Masonic Center’s legal status. It was in turn appealed by a coalition of condominium associations and the Nob Hill Legal Coalition, opposing any public use of the building after the fact of 51 continuous years of meetings, concerts and other gatherings.

Among those uses over the years has been the annual statewide gathering of California Freemasons – and a single annual gathering of Masons was reportedly the only use for the building of which the opponents didn’t object.

Despite the heat coming from a few neighbors, the plan has its share of supporters in famously contrarian San Francisco.
Comedian Danny DeVito, the San Francisco School District, S.F. Convention and Visitors Bureau, SF Jazz, Youth Speaks!, UCSF Nursing School, IATSE Local 16 and even animation giant Pixar wrote letters or testified about their use of the building over the past decades and its history of hosting arts and cultural events, concerts, graduations and business meetings.

“We have been managing operations at the Masonic Center for almost one year without incident,” Live Nation-SF Chairman Lee Smith said in a statement. “In fact, since we’ve taken over, we’ve greatly improved parking and traffic issues on Nob Hill, while at the same time bringing top name performers such as David Gray and Steely Dan to the venue.”

In an attempt to mitigate neighborhood concerns, the Masonic Center and Live Nation have already proposed 41 permanent conditions of approval that directly address traffic, bus parking, loading, noise and security, among other issues, according to the statement.