Zoning Issues: Live-work spaces

Working close to home is extremely desirable in a traffic-marred area like Los Angeles County, so it makes sense that many Santa Monicans are clamoring to live where they work.

Live-work units are primarily for artists under the current regulations but the new proposed Zoning Ordinance, which will dictate land uses throughout the city for years to come, offers to open them up to general commercial use and to tighten some restrictions.

Issues arose last year when neighbors of the Edgemar complex on Main Street complained that two artist live-work studios were not occupied by artists, nor were the tenants actually living their. One of the tenants was running an online vintage clothing store, which city officials found to be sufficiently artistic for the studios.

In discussion of the proposed Zoning Ordinance at City Council’s meeting last week, Mayor Kevin McKeown expressed concern that these units, which would serve as homes, would be considered, by the new ordinance, primarily commercial.

“If you think about the Arts District (in Downtown Los Angeles), which is a formerly industrial area, that has a lot of artist live work units,” Councilmember Gleam Davis responded. “They just tend to pop up because you have higher ceilings. Artists, for example, like to have cement floors so they can work. That sort of thing. They don’t put down nice hardwood floors and then put oil paints all over them. These types of units typically arise more in a commercial/industrial area just by virtue of the way they are.”

Council ultimately agreed to recommend that the live-work units not be allowed in residential areas. They would, under the recommendation, be thought of as 60 percent commercial and 40 percent residential.

Additionally, the new code would require that they be used for both work and residency. Only three people who don’t live in the space would be allowed to work there — a provision introduced because the Planning Commission was concerned about the number of people coming and going.

“Obviously one of the issues with these live-work units is affordability,” Davis said. “Can we direct staff to find a way to make sure these units are truly affordable to artists because they tend to be very expensive, because they’re big and lofty, and a lot of people think they’re cool?”

Council agreed.

“That has been the problem,” McKeown said, “is that a lot of people who are not artists covet these spaces and price the artists out of them.”

Though the council voted on several dozen aspects of the ordinance last week, nothing is final. City planners and attorneys will implement the more than 50 requested changes and bring the draft back to council for final review on May 6.

The Planning Commission discussed the document for months over the course of 33 meetings. Council took its first crack at their revisions last week, hearing about five hours of public comment before debating the 500-page document for seven hours.


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