In hopes of spurring economic growth and addressing the city’s affordable housing shortage and homeless crisis, the Central City Association of Los Angeles Monday called on city officials to expand the ordinance that allows new uses for existing downtown buildings.
The Central City Association is an advocacy organization for downtown Los Angeles that represents more than 300 businesses, nonprofits and trade associations. On Monday, the group released a white paper on the benefits of “adaptive reuse” and concrete steps the city can take to use existing structures in new ways.
The association said an expansion of the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance — which was approved in 1999 and allows old downtown offices and bank buildings to be converted into apartments — would benefit the city’s recovery by converting vacant or underutilized spaces citywide into spaces that contribute to the health of neighborhoods, foster tax revenues and job creation, and create new opportunities for housing. It also said it would help preserve historic structures and improve environmental sustainability.
“Expanding our city’s adaptive reuse policies would create opportunities to deliver housing of all kinds and other resources like childcare centers that strengthen communities,” CCA President and CEO Jessica Lall said. “We look forward to collaborating with the city to implement our recommendations to ensure L.A. can recover from the pandemic as a more resilient and livable city.”
The CCA called on the city to:
— apply the ordinance citywide;
— apply the ordinance to a broader range of buildings of different land uses and ages;
— maximize flexibility regarding residential unit size, types, design, densities and programming of commercial spaces;
— make it easier to provide amenity space throughout the buildings, including on rooftops and in basements;
— allow new floor area to be added in tandem with preserving existing buildings to incentivize rehabilitation and development;
— allow projects that meet a specific criteria to be approved “by-right,” and not through a public process; and
— not require new parking and provide opportunities to convert existing parking into other uses.
Downtown Los Angeles has already been impacted by the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, according to CCA, which said that during the 20-year period after the ordinance’s approval, about 30% of the new housing units added to Los Angeles were created through adaptive reuse. The association wants adaptive reuse efforts expanded to have a larger impact on Los Angeles, especially now that many workers will be able to work remotely long-term and office spaces may remain empty.
“While workers will likely return to working in offices as vaccines are more widely available, questions remain over how demand for office space may evolve over the long term,” the white paper said. It cited a CoStar study that found about 80% of the city’s office workers can do their job remotely.
According to the CCA, the current Adaptive Reuse Ordinance only applies to a small amount of the city and can only be used to create housing, not schools or day cares. Under the ordinance, buildings in manufacturing zones and those built after 1974 have to go through a long approval process. The ordinance also has square-feet requirements that disqualify micro-units.
Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo introduced a motion last November to consider having hotels be converted into micro-unit housing under the adaptive reuse ordinance to address challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said in a statement, released Monday by CCA, that he supports updating the city’s policies to allow for adaptive reuse in a greater variety of buildings.
“I have been a fierce advocate for adaptive reuse since I represented downtown as state senator and was the author of the Los Angeles Downtown Rebound bills, which allocated funds for adaptive reuse, low-income multi-family housing and development and planning grants,” he said.
The Los Angeles City Planning Commission is also working to revise rules for adaptive reuse projects in downtown Los Angeles under the Downtown 2040 Community Plan Update. According to CCA, the updates could include allowing basements and rooftop features to be used and not count toward the building’s floor area, removing minimum and average unit size requirements and providing for a larger range of uses, such as allowing parking structures to be adapted for any new use permitted by the zoning code, including housing, office or retail.
Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion to expand adaptive reuse throughout the city to spur the creation of moderate income housing.
“Our city is facing many challenges in the wake of the pandemic, but adaptive reuse is a useful tool in our work to address housing affordability, homelessness and more. I believe we must do more to encourage the ‘missing middle’ of housing affordability known as moderate income housing,” Koretz said.
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