Draft Zoning Code

The Zoning Advisory Committee Gets a Sneak Peek of the New Zoning Code

on July 05, 2018

The re:code LA team checked in with the Zoning Advisory Committee (ZAC) at its regular monthly meeting on May 23, 2018 as the project approaches several major milestones— a Processes and Procedures update as well as the creation of zones for the draft Boyle Heights Community Plan and two Downtown Community Plans. These initiatives represent big steps forward for the re:code LA project, and a new Zoning Code will begin taking shape in the City of Los Angeles as re:code LA approaches these milestones.

Remember the Draft Outline re:code LA released back in March? The re:code LA team has been busy drafting the parts of the Zoning Code that could potentially apply to the Downtown Community Plans and the Boyle Heights Community Plan, so the outline is starting to look a lot more like a real Zoning Code. The main purpose of the ZAC meeting was to share and discuss the administrative drafts of sections of the new Zoning Code that the re:code LA team has created so far. This marks a major step forward in the process of preparing a draft of the new Zoning Code for widespread, public review.

Draft Zoning Code

The ZAC meeting started with a reminder about the purpose of the new Zoning Code: to provide new, improved zoning tools for implementing the goals described in community plans. A previous article, "The New Zoning Code: Coming Soon to a Community Plan Near You," describes more about how the new Zoning Code will help achieve the vision of each community around the city. The ZAC had an early opportunity to examine the specifics of the new Zoning Code—the first examples of the zoning tools community planners and stakeholders will consider when deciding how to implement the vision expressed by their community plans. (As described in the article "What re:code LA Can and Can't Do for Neighborhoods," the new Zoning Code works like a painter's palette, offering a variety of colors that can be applied in the right place and in the right amount to achieve a desired effect.)

The Big Picture

The ZAC spent the most time examining examples of three of the big components of the new Zoning Code: Form Districts, Frontages, and Use Districts. Each of these components is represented in a section of the Zoning String, as shown in the graphic below.

The Boyle Heights Community Plan and the Downtown Community Plans have provided lots of opportunities to create most of the components in the Zoning String, and to start filling in the various sections listed in  the Zoning Code outline. There is a lot more work to be done in crafting the sections of the Zoning Code that could potentially be applied for the rest of the city.

The ZAC committee spent a lot of the meeting discussing how Form Districts, Frontages, and Use Districts could potentially be applied to achieve the desired goals of communities.

Just because re:code LA has drafted new zones with Boyle Heights and Downtown in mind, does not mean new zoning has been adopted for Boyle Heights and Downtown. New Form Districts, Frontages, and Use Districts can only be implemented by choices made during a community plan update process. The process of drafting and adopting a Community Plan offers numerous opportunities for residents, business owners, and stakeholders to discuss the Forms and Uses desired (existing or new) before they decide on the right zoning options to help realize their vision—in other words, before they pick the right tool for the job.

Choices, Choices

The Zoning Code provides the toolkit for implementing the vision described by a Community Plan. Because the City of Los Angeles is so large and diverse, there are many potential visions for the future, and every neighborhood is unique. That means the Zoning Code needs to have a lot of options, and it needs to be responsive—there must to be a lot of tools in the toolkit and each tool needs to be effective in achieving its desired purpose.

The corner of the Boyle Heights Community Plan area located along the Los Angeles River provides an example of how the new Zoning Code will provide options for determining the future direction of a neighborhood or area in the City.

Boyle Heights

Hypothetically, if the community decides that all new buildings should closely resemble those existing warehouses along the L.A. River, the community would look for a Form District and a Frontage in the new Zoning Code that reflect the existing conditions. If the community also wanted the same kind of industrial uses to operate in those buildings in the future, they would choose a Use District that also reflects current uses.

However, if (also a hypothetical) the community decided that their future would be best served if the buildings just looked like warehouses, with apartments or condos inside instead of industrial operations, they could change the Use District, while keeping a Form District that mimics the existing conditions.

Whether a place is going to remain stable or be transformed is a question for the Community Plan process, but re:code LA is designing a new Zoning Code that offers the effective tools for either option. When the new Zoning Code is complete, there will be a Form District option that replicates the current forms in each neighborhood, but there will also be Form District options with characteristics that allow some areas to evolve and change. In the same way, there will be Use District options that replicate the uses that exist today, and there will be Use District options that would allow parts of the city to evolve and change.

The ZAC is the first group of citizens to take a look at the collection of zoning options developed so far and discuss how the options would work toward the goals of the City, but soon you'll get a chance too. (If you live in Downtown or Boyle Heights, your chance is coming very soon, in fact.) Now is the time to think about the characteristics that make your neighborhood special—that you want to protect for the future. Are there also features of thriving neighborhoods that you see as lacking in your neighborhood? In either of these scenarios, you'll need the right zoning tool for the job to make a vision for the future come true.