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Killer downtown views and approved apartment plans. Why is it still a dirt lot?

The parcel at 313-333 Burnett Ave. might be San Francisco's highest available unbuilt chunk of residentially zoned land with a view of downtown.

a view of San Francisco on a partly cloudy day through a chain-link fence high on a hill, flanked by trees
At present, 313-333 Burnett Ave. is just a fenced-off hillside. But the $2 million plot, approved for 18 units, might be the highest unbuilt parcel facing downtown San Francisco. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

More densely populated than anywhere in the country beyond New York City, San Francisco doesn’t have a lot of open space left to build on—and the higher into the sky you go, the scarcer and more expensive it gets.

One fenced-off parcel stands out, though. Just a few blocks down from Twin Peaks’ dual summits, an extremely steep and undeveloped lot awaits 18 city-approved apartments, each of which will have that most sought-after of amenities: an unobstructed view of downtown San Francisco, the bay and the hills beyond. 

At approximately 600 feet in elevation, the combined parcel at 313-333 Burnett Ave. might be the city’s highest available unbuilt chunk of residentially zoned land with a view of downtown, a .17-acre site asking $1.995 million. Approved by the city’s Planning Department in 2022, it will eventually be the site of two nine-story buildings—assuming a buyer materializes, that is. 

According to listing agent Kevin Birmingham of Park North Real Estate, each level will contain one unit, with three floors above Burnett Avenue and another six cascading down the hillside. At present, though, it’s just a scrubby hillside, if a very rare one. 

“I can’t think of any vacant lots in that area,” Birmingham said. “Up by Twin Peaks, there is some housing. But I think it’s all built out.”

This development is unusual in more ways than one, he added. Most construction on this scale occurs in commercial corridors—not on a veritable mountainside without anywhere to get milk or eggs within walking distance. When complete, the two gray-and-white buildings will encompass more than 40,000 square feet of living space, with parking for 16 cars and 36 bicycles. Yes, there will be an elevator.

“Each unit will have a full-floor flat with decks, and complete views of downtown San Francisco,” Birmingham said. “The views you’re looking at are the views [that future residents] are going to see.” 

The unbuilt plot on Burnett may be high, but it’s hardly the highest point in the city—or even the highest house. Midtown Terrace and Forest Knolls, the two residential neighborhoods immediately west of Twin Peaks, both have streets that extend quite a bit higher. 

One block of Robinhood Drive may have homes as high up as 800 feet above sea level, but those areas have few places left to build, although a mixed-income development at the foot of Sutro Tower is expected to deliver 76 townhouses sometime in the next six to eight years.

Perhaps more importantly, these streets are tucked into the folds of the topography at the city’s very center. Some may have magnificent views facing south and west, but none of them gaze upon downtown San Francisco.

architectural rendering of two nine-story white buildings on a hillside
313 and 333 Burnett Ave. will have three floors above the street and six below. | Source: Courtesy EE Weiss Architects

Architect Earl Weiss, who designed 313-333 Burnett Ave., said it was an unusual project, with the current owner merging several adjacent lots into one. It’s also been scaled back a bit from the original proposal.

“The reason is the excavation,” he said. “We’re trying to be good neighbors, although we’re trying to get houses built. So we’re going to reduce the excavation by close to 70%.”

Digging less dirt means reducing the 18 units’ square footage, but it will fit into the overall feel of a similar condominium project nearby.

Asked if he agreed with the agent’s assessment that this project was the highest unbuilt parcel left in the city, Weiss wasn’t so certain. Certainly, there are some even steeper lots around town, like a veritable cliff face on Telegraph Hill.

“Given the density of San Francisco, it’s easy to come up with the notion that there’s a lot of unbuilt things,” he said. “They’re available, but the problem is that most of the ones left are difficult. They’re quirky.”

Astrid Kane can be reached at