Last week the Department of City Planning released new proposed zoning rules for Downtown Los Angeles. The package of proposals is part of the wider Downtown Community Plan, also known as DTLA 2040, and seeks to anticipate and prepare for a period of phenomenal growth in the Central City.

On Thursday, Oct. 31 the department outlined plans to nearly double the land area in Downtown where housing can be built, as well as increase mobility across Downtown. Revised zoning regulations would issue new designations for much of the eastern and southern neighborhoods in Downtown, which city officials believe will allow for easier development in those predominately industrial areas.

The biggest shift will be the removal of parking requirements for new residential projects in Downtown. The Department of City Planning expects that removing parking minimums will allow for greater housing density, and provide environmental bonuses.

“For decades, we’ve prioritized shelter for cars over people by requiring parking minimums in Downtown,” Director of Planning Vince Bertoni said in a prepared statement. “All of that changes today with the new policies that we’ve laid out in this plan. We’re removing onerous regulatory requirements that have either slowed or impeded development — unlocking in the process the potential for new housing and jobs.”

Currently, developers who hope to build in Downtown are required to provide a certain amount of parking spaces based off of the building’s use. Downtown would be the first neighborhood in Los Angeles to nix parking minimums.

The elimination of those minimums also encourages investing in multi-modal transportation options, according to Hillary Norton, executive director of FASTLinkDTLA and a member of the California Transportation Commission.

The Department of City Planning also notes that by eliminating parking minimums, it would mean developers could build on narrower lots as they would not have to build large podiums which typically house parking and require space for ramps and stalls. That would allow for more infill in Downtown, opening up sites that were previously too small for large housing construction.

The proposed changes to the zoning map come as the Downtown is prepping for even more growth over the next two decades. Downtown currently has an estimated 80,000 residents. If the DTLA2040 projects come true, the local population will climb to 200,000 over the next two decades, as the area sees the addition of 70,000 housing units and 55,000 jobs.

The report projects that 20% of the entire city’s growth will take place on the 1% of Los Angeles land that Downtown covers.

Per the new zoning rules, there would be new base allotments for how dense developers can build. The city is also hoping to incentivize developers by allowing greater density for those that offer community bonuses and more affordable housing.

The effort is part of the city’s wider re:code LA initiative. The project was sparked in 2013 to update the city’s aging zoning structure. The city still operates under guidelines first approved in 1946, which has failed to keep up with the needs of the city.

The DTLA Community Plan is the first part of that project to be released and replaces existing plans for the Central City and Central City East. The new zoning rules follow the July release of a draft general plan land use designation map and draft policy document.

City Rolls Out New Zoning Proposals

Mapping the Impact

The document details what parts of Downtown is expected to experience the heaviest amount of development; the southern and eastern portions of Downtown are seen as likely boom areas.

A new community plan is not necessary for Downtown’s growth to continue, but would help streamline and clear up things, said Dan Rosenfeld, a land-use consultant who has worked in both the public and private sector.

“The reason we need one is that it would be nice if there were rules. I’m a developer. I know my colleagues and I would like public policy where we know what we can build and what we can’t,” Rosenfeld said. “How tall? How dense? The more prescriptive the public policy is, the more the development community will deliver.”

Rosenfeld said that developers in Downtown currently have to request spot changes and zoning variances on individual projects, which can be costly and chew up time. A Downtown with neighborhoods more readily zoned for hybrid industrial or residential purposes would allow developers to avoid those hurdles, he noted.

The new zoning rules are expected to reduce general plan amendments, sometimes referred to as “spot zoning,” where developers hope to get exceptions in certain zoning areas to build specific types of individual properties. Per the Department of City Planning, the majority of those requests center on the Arts District, which is currently zoned for industrial uses. Under the proposed revisions, that area would be designated as hybrid industrial. The department does not expect spot zoning to go away fully, but the new rules should decrease the amount of requests.

The draft also makes a push to increase live/work developments in neighborhoods like the Fashion District and the Arts District, that currently are zoned for more commercial and manufacturing uses.

The Arts District, which has experienced some of the most pronounced growth in Downtown over the past two decades, is currently designated as heavy manufacturing and zoned for industrial uses. By transitioning the designation to hybrid industrial, officials believe that more mixed-use and live/work projects will be able to be built in the area without having to request spot changes or general plan amendments.

In addition, the proposal also calls for new rules around Skid Row to allow for more affordable housing, according to the department.

DTLA 2040 proposes that the core of the community, along Fifth, Sixth and Seventh streets east of San Pedro Street, be limited to affordable housing. Currently there is no limit to what can be built, or requirements for affordable housing, within that area. The new rules would create limitations aimed at providing housing for lower-income Angelenos.

Housing advocates have taken issue with the new proposal, stating that more of the neighborhood should be earmarked for low-incoming housing.

The new zoning plans also include design overlays for residential neighborhoods with distinct cultural characteristics, such as Little Tokyo.

This draft is the first part of a wider process before any new zoning plans are adopted. The Department of City Planning will next release a draft environmental report on its proposed plans, which would then be reviewed and scrutinized in a series of public community meetings. The department will revise the rules based on those meetings, before the Los Angeles City Council decides on whether to adopt the changes. The department anticipates adoption by the end of 2020.

The next community meeting for the Downtown Community Plan will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. at Pico House at 424 N. Main St.

sthomas@timespublications.com and nslayton@timespublications.com

©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019