Downtown Los Angeles is the commercial, cultural and civic heart of the city, and home to a diverse range of industries and neighborhoods at the center of an expanding regional transportation network. By 2040, DTLA is expected to accommodate 125,000 new residents and 55,000 new jobs, representing 20% of the city’s housing growth in only 1% of its land area.
On August 7, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning released its new draft of “DTLA 2040” (also known as the Downtown Community Plan), which is a combined update to two existing community plans. DTLA 2040 proposes new development to support more affordable housing and jobs, promotes a dynamic and sustainable Downtown core, and honors the diverse communities that work and live there. While the plan doesn’t propose specific projects, it establishes certain expectations and sets the range of uses and the scale of future development allowed.
“This is a forward-looking set of goals, policies and implementation tools that look primarily at how the Downtown area will grow and change over the next 20 years,” said Craig Weber, principal city planner.
“We will likely hold an official public hearing in the fall. It’s an opportunity to receive public input on the plan. After the hearing, we will bring forward a recommended community plan to the city planning commission sometime in early 2021, followed by the council adoption process.”
DTLA 2040 is the first community plan that will apply new zoning developed as part of the comprehensive update of the city’s zoning code.
“The plan is going to be the first in the city to use the city’s new proposed zoning code,” Weber said. “It’s a sophisticated mix of new zoning tools that we haven’t been able to utilize until now. We also have a more sophisticated way to approach what the built environment will look like and what the mixed uses will be.”
DTLA 2040 is looking to replace the city’s Transfer of Floor Area Rights (TFAR) program with a more predictable Community Benefits Program. TFAR allows developers to sell their floor area rights to other parcels, and in some cases, housing units or parking units. The new Community Benefits Program will incentivize the development of new affordable housing, while simplifying the approval process for new development. It will nearly double the area where housing is permitted, which will expand from 33% to 60% of Downtown’s total area.
The Downtown Community Plan will also expand the area where adaptive reuse is permitted to include the Fashion and Arts Districts, and creates options for the construction of live-work housing. So that Downtown remains a place for everyone, the plan expands the type of housing allowed to a wider variety of living situations, income levels and age groups, and intensifies residential zoning in different areas, especially those near public transit stations. DTLA 2040 also features provisions that will preserve existing affordable housing and limit market-rate housing in and around Skid Row.
“We’re looking to accommodate 100,000 new housing units in Downtown, which is significantly more than our regional demographic agencies are forecasting,” Weber said. “We think it’s consistent with the vision for Downtown and growing sustainably. This will also allow us to bolster employment uses Downtown. Creating a much more streamlined and transparent process to facilitate new affordable housing is part of the Downtown Plan.”
The proposal includes a new base and bonus system for Downtown that is intended to establish a clearer set of objective standards for projects that want to build beyond their base zoning. It will require developers to set aside a specific number of units as affordable to exceed a project’s base floor area. The program also includes a new category for affordable housing that will tie the proposed policies of the Downtown Community Plan to the stated goals of the Community Benefits System, which will include a Deeply Low Income category for people who earn less than 15% of the area median income. By including the minimum prescribed affordable housing, projects are eligible for a 35% increase in floor area. Additional incentives will be available for various projects that offer amenities that serve the neighborhood, such as child care facilities and open space.
“We do a great deal of outreach with existing stakeholder organizations and community-based organizations to help refine and strengthen the goal,” he said. “We’ve heard there is a strong need for publicly accessible open space, so we’re looking at adding things like a community facility and space for other social services in Downtown, such as communal kitchens and small-business incubation spaces.”
DTLA 2040 also aims to enhance mobility in Downtown by promoting an environment that is more friendly and accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists and transit. The Downtown Community Plan encourages high-intensity development in proximity to transit, eliminates minimum parking requirements and discourages parking above ground. It includes strategies to expand the pedestrian network by requiring buildings on large blocks to have paseos and plazas. DTLA 2040 also facilitates the provision of new public open space through the Community Benefits System by supporting a network of green pedestrian alleys and encouraging city efforts to revitalize the Los Angeles River.
According to Weber, the process to adopt the Downtown Community Plan depends a lot on public participation. “There is a significant list of benefits in the program, and its stakeholder input and ensuing economics allow us to orchestrate what those benefits should be,” he said. “DTLA 2040 is really setting the stage for what future development can take place, so the development activities that then take place are largely at the hands of the city.”
For more information, visit planning4la.org.