Mission bowling alley threatened by thousands of dollars in San Francisco fees 

A small-business owner is hoping for a strike in delivering a new bowling alley for the Mission neighborhood, but city fees could send her plans down the gutter.

Transforming a vacant Mission warehouse into a vibrant bowling alley may sound like the kind of idea a city would embrace, but San Francisco is socking Sommer Peterson with $44,000 in special fees, which she says could derail the project.

“We’re running out of money to complete our construction now and we’re really looking for help for these debilitating fees,” Peterson said. “If we cannot get The City’s assistance, the extraordinary high fees could force us to … give up on the business in its entirety.”

Peterson, who is one of the owners of Mini Bar on Divisadero Street, is working to open a six-lane bowling alley with a restaurant and bar in an 8,000-square-foot vacant warehouse at 3176 17th St. in February.

The Planning Department is imposing extra “impact fees” on Peterson because officials say she’s converting a warehouse — which is zoned as light industrial — to entertainment use. As part of major rezoning in 2008 of The City’s eastern neighborhoods, including the site of the warehouse, an impact fee was established to help pay for community benefits such as parks or road repairs. Impact fees account for about half of Peterson’s $44,000 tab; the other half is for a Muni transit fee, which has been on the books since 1981 and was extended citywide in the early 2000s.

“[City staffers] are strangled by their own policies, yet we’re victimized by it,” Peterson said. “I’d like to be able to make a change for myself and other small businesses.”

Peterson has found some sympathetic ears at the Small Business Commission, when she turned up during a Monday hearing to explain her ordeal. The commission is now calling on The City to create a special fee structure for small, independently owned businesses and plans to send a letter to Mayor Ed Lee.

“I think it’s crazy,” Small Business Commissioner Steve Adams said during Monday’s hearing when Peterson came to City Hall for help. “This is the type of bureaucracy I see in The City that is a problem and a hindrance to small business.”

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose said the agency will work with the business owner “to make sure the transition goes as smooth as possible, but this is the requirement.”

Ben Ospital, owner of Modern Appealing Clothing, recently opened up a second location in the Dogpatch neighborhood. “I completely feel this person’s pain,” he said. Ospital said his process took 16 months and there were similar challenges.

“If this young woman can’t open a business, then really we become a city of big businesses, and really it makes us Sacramento with hills,” Ospital said. “I don’t think tourists come for that.”

Supervisor Jane Kim has praised the bowling alley project and introduced legislation in June that would allow alcohol to be served at the alley, not just at the restaurant and bar.


Alley facts

  • 3 Number of years proposed bowling alley site has been vacant
  • 20 Number of new jobs that would be created
  • 8,000 Warehouse square footage  
  • $6 Maximum Eastern Neighborhood Impact Fee for changing light industrial use, per square foot
  • $10 Max transit impact fee per square foot
  • $24,540 Assessed Eastern Neighborhood Impact fee at $3 rate
  • $19K Amount to pay in Muni transit impact fee at $2.34 rate
  • $44K Estimated total impact fees


The pins-and-needles timeline for opening a bowling alley in the Mission

  • May 2010: Sommer Peterson begins searching for Mission warehouses for project
  • September 2010: Selects business location; spends $577 to obtain Planning Department ruling on allowable uses
  • November 2010: Finds out Eastern Neighborhood fee will be assessed at $3 per square foot; told she may be subject to Muni impact fee of up to $10 per square foot.
  • December 2010: Contacts SFMTA fee administrator to discuss fee amount
  • January 2011: Lease signed for 8,000-square-foot warehouse at 3176 17th St.
  • May  2011: Submits permit application with Planning Department  
  • June 2011: Supervisor Jane Kim, a supporter, submits legislation to allow alcohol service at the proposed bowling alley
  • July 2011: Planning Department approves permit, says impact fees total $24,540
  • August 2011: Realizes Muni will charge impact fee, bringing total fees to $44,000
  • August 2011: Attends Small Business Commission requesting help to lower fees
  • February 2012: Bowling alley’s planned grand opening

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