Last Tuesday, City Council listened to some 140 passionate citizens express their opinions about modifications to zoning codes required by the city’s updated master plan. The following night, council members deliberated on the many issues and made recommendations to staff for final tweaks and revisions.

As I expected, council pulled back on larger Tier 3 size developments, thus eliminating 55-foot and taller buildings on Wilshire Boulevard — with exceptions for developments offering 100 percent affordable housing and properties with landmarks or structures of merit. Council also opposed massive Wilshire’s “activity centers.”

However, council stayed with its commitment to early childhood education and day care centers in R1 residential neighborhoods. The recommendation to not prohibit these businesses outright as city staff had proposed in the code revisions will therefore carry forward older codes that require persons wanting to operate these facilities to go through a lengthy public review process and obtain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).

Persons opposing such a facility in their single-family neighborhood will have to fight the CUP application and take a chance that the early childhood/day care advocates on Planning Commission and City Council will deny it which is highly unlikely.

Council voted to reduce staff’s proposal that allowed developers to not require on-site parking for every tenant in new developments within half a mile of transit hubs. The current codes require that developers provide parking to every tenant (or unit) whether or not they own a car. Council suggested that unbundling parking as a mandatory amenity be allowed in new projects up to one quarter mile from transit hubs if a parking study shows it’s feasible.

Although this may sound like a win, bus stops are considered transit hubs. There isn’t a place in the entire city that isn’t within a one quarter mile of a bus stop!

The truth is that tenants, lots of ’em, are going to be parking on already jammed streets, if for nothing else, to save paying expensive on-site parking fees. Terry O’Day, who opposed the changes (along with Pam O’Connor), called bundled parking a tax for tenants who don’t own a car and claimed it was a good policy. Unfortunately, it seems that O’Day and O’Connor still believe in flying unicorns and planning fairy tales like “people who live near transit won’t own or drive cars.”

Council deadlocked on recommendations to rezone some 100 residential (A lot) parcels on or adjacent to major boulevards, citywide, as commercial. The lots were misidentified as “commercial” in zoning update documents. Residents wanted the unexplained designation corrected to insure that commercial developments will not encroach directly on adjacent homes and apartments near major boulevards.

In other actions, council recommended a special zoning district for the Pico Neighborhood to help preserve its unique character. And, holy smokes! Council approved, in principal, to allow two medical marijuana dispensaries somewhere in the city!

Neighborhood leaders felt betrayed and said leaving the activity center elements in the code, while removing some of the specific centers, did little good as future councils can still assemble the kind of development residents opposed.
Council’s recommendations will go to staff for review and then return on May 5 for a final, binding vote making them the law of the land for the next 30 years or so.

Appealing developments? Not!

One of my favorite proposed developments is on appeal Wednesday night before the Planning Commission. It’s a ten-apartment project shoehorned onto an irregular shaped parcel at 2919 Lincoln/802 Ashland Ave. Current zoning allows four units on the site, but with “preferred permitted project” bonuses because of one low-income apartment and sustainable construction, the project has more than doubled in size.

It consists of the four, two-story residential structures over a 20 vehicle subterranean garage. Neighbors filed their appeal based on massing, density, close proximity to private homes that surround the essentially “land-locked” hillside, lack of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, loss of on-street parking and other issues.

This project is a poster child for our dysfunctional planning and community development process. Overly large, a steep hillside parcel, high density, nearly complete lot coverage, badly conceived street access, unimaginative design and negative affect on neighbors — mostly because of one “low income” apartment.

Because this is an Architectural Review Board (ARB) appeal, Planning Commissioners can only deal with ARB-related issues like cosmetics and appearance. They have no authority to reduce the project’s size, mass or make substantial structural changes. Too bad.

One other item is before Planning Commission Wednesday night on appeal and that’s architect Ron Goldman’s appeal of ARB approval for Millennium East Village, 2930 Colorado Avenue (Village Trailer Park). Here’s another case where the Planning Commission can only act on those elements that were under ARB purview.

This is and always has been a massive and hideous project designed to squeeze as much revenue generating space onto a parcel as possible. Goldman’s appeal would provide improvement. However, with Planning Commission’s limited authority, chalk up one more bad development in a city that’s becoming filled with them.

Bill Bauer can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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