DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In 1999, the city approved the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance. The measure, which made it easier and less expensive for developers to turn dilapidated office structures into housing, was a game-changer in Downtown Los Angeles, leading to the creation of thousands of apartments and condominiums.

Now, a group of officials are looking at changes to the ordinance. The goal, they say, is to spur another round of development, including on the upper floors of derelict buildings on Broadway.

According to a motion approved by the City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee on Jan. 10, the changes are necessary to avoid conflicts and discrepancies between city and state code that can lead to project delays. The motion directed the City Planning Department to prepare an update to the ordinance.

"The Adaptive Reuse Ordinance is now more than 12 years old and parts of it have become outdated," said 14th District Councilman José Huizar, who presented the motion with Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Alan Bell, the deputy director of city planning, said the city will assemble a group of architects, community members and developers to help determine what modifications are required to resolve code conflicts. The process will include community meetings. Although no timeline has been set for the sessions, Bell said they hope to have recommendations ready for the council in about eight months.

"We want to make changes that are going to encourage reuse and development and we want to hear what the community has to say," Bell said.

Landmark Measure

The Adaptive Reuse Ordinance was first fully tested by developer Tom Gilmore. After his Old Bank District project at Fourth and Main streets succeeded, investment poured into the Historic Core. Dozens of faded buildings benefitted from the measure.

According to the Downtown Los Angeles Demographic Study 2011, compiled by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (Los Angeles Downtown News was a partner in the report), the community now has 29,429 apartments and condominiums and 46,400 residents. In 1999, before the ordinance, there were about 18,000 inhabitants and 11,626 residential units in Downtown, according to the DCBID.

"The Adaptive Reuse Ordinance was the catalyst for the Downtown Los Angeles residential boom," Huizar said. "We need to make sure our policies continue to invite investments necessary to activate underutilized upper floor commercial spaces with residential, live/work and hotel space now and in the future."

While the ordinance facilitated the conversion of older buildings by not requiring all the zoning and code requirements that would be mandated for new construction, some code conflicts have materialized over the past decade, city officials said.

The conflicts highlighted by Huizar's motion include the city's commercial zoning code, which places a limit of five employees for a live/work unit while the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance allows just one.

Changing this, Bell said, could expand opportunities for creative office space use in Downtown. It could have a particular impact in buildings on Broadway, where there is nearly 1 million square feet of vacant space above street level. Activating this space has long been a goal for Huizar.

"That's one of the driving opportunities we're seeing with this," Bell said. "We see the opportunity to create more employment, more small- and home-based businesses."

Another conflict concerns the mezzanines in adaptive reuse projects. Current building code allows a mezzanine to be 50% of the size of the floor below, while the ordinance limits in to 33%.

The ordinance also addresses converting underutilized buildings and commercial space into hotels while the current building code does not. Additionally, there needs to be clarification between square footage requirements for adaptive reuse units and the city's regulations, according to the motion.

"The program has been working, but it has been [12] years and this will give us an opportunity to make something that has worked so well work even better," Bell said.

Hamid Behdad, co-president of the Central City Development Group and the city's former adaptive reuse czar, said he does not expect to see any sweeping changes to the ordinance. Given his prior experience, he said he hopes to have a role in any upcoming alterations.

"I want to make sure some of us involved with this will be kept in the loop," he said. "I want to make sure they do not change the language in a way that limits the new generation of adaptive reuse projects, but I don't think that will happen."

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.

©Los Angeles Downtown News.