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LA zoning gets a facelift after 77 years

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In a city renowned for constant change, the City of Los Angeles is once again embracing transformation. This time, it’s not just the celebrities undergoing a makeover, but the city itself.

Since 2013, the city has been engaged in a comprehensive revision of the citywide zoning code named re:code LA—the first update since 1946. Re:code LA seeks to establish a new zoning framework that considers not only land uses but also the physical design of buildings and their role within a dynamic urban environment. The initiative also aims to streamline and bring more predictability to the development processes.

In May 2023, the City Council approved the Community Plan update for Downtown LA (“DTLA 2040”), marking the first application of the citywide zoning code. Additionally, the LA Planning Commission approved a new community plan for Boyle Heights. It is anticipated that the updated zoning code will be integrated into the remaining 32 community plans.

Here are 4 key points you should know:

  • Modular zoning for enhanced flexibility

The new zoning code departs from the traditional approach of solely segregating land by use (e.g., residential vs. commercial). Instead, it introduces a hybrid, modular system that regulates both on-site activities and the surrounding physical environment. Land parcels under each Community Plan will be rezoned using new zoning tools comprising 5 modular components or “districts”: Form District, Frontage, Development Standards, Use District, and Density.

Modular zoning allows form and use to be regulated separately, offering communities the ability to create unique zoning districts using each component, thus providing “virtually limitless customization.” This approach was chosen to simplify the layers of conflicting regulations present in the current system.

  • Multiple planning tools to increase affordable housing supply

A central goal of re:code LA is to ensure that zoning facilitates diverse housing options.

DTLA 2040, the first approved community plan, focuses on expanding housing supply. The City Council mandated an inclusionary housing system in downtown, requiring all new residential projects to include a minimum percentage of affordable units. The plan also eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments and permits residential development in a portion of Skid Row, albeit with stringent affordability criteria.

Both DTLA and Boyle Heights have established their own Community Benefits Programs, replacing the Transfer of Floor Area Rights program. These programs offer developers additional bonuses in exchange for contributions to citywide community benefits like affordable housing and new parks.

Similar housing programs are expected to be implemented in other community plans.

  • Reliance on a dynamic, web-based zoning code

The City aims to create a more user-friendly and digital zoning code accessible online to both professionals and the public. The new code is intended to resolve ambiguities across community plans and parcels.

  • Community plan updates will take time, resulting in a patchwork of zoning tools

Community Plan updates are ongoing in 12 communities, but they can take months or years to complete. Therefore, some communities will continue to use the old zoning code until full integration is achieved. It's worth noting that while the Hollywood Community Plan was approved at the same time as DTLA 2040, it does not incorporate elements of re:code LA.

What does this mean for ATC?

ATC will soon incorporate zoning into the platform and keep it updated as the zoning code evolves. Understanding how others leverage new zoning codes and housing programs will be crucial for project development. Exploring new applications and determinations will help understand zoning precedent, and ATC will ensure these documents are readily available for customers.

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