Innovative Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan Seeks to Revitalize Neglected Los Angeles Neighborhood

by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
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After years of work and input from local community groups, environmentalists, affordable housing advocates, transportation advocates, and the business community, the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (the “CASP”) cleared its final hurdle on June 28, 2013 when the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve it. The CASP aims to revitalize a more than 650 acre stretch of mostly industrial land along the Los Angeles River. The CASP includes several innovative strategies that aim to transform an area zoned and built according to development and land use patterns left over from the 1940’s. The goal is a mixed-use neighborhood that concentrates higher densities around transit, preserves and develops affordable housing and fosters economic growth and new technology, while providing sorely needed certainty to developers and investors interested in investing in the CASP area.

Some of the CASP’s innovative provisions include:

  • Affordable Housing: The CASP provides for a Density Bonus Program that allows for increased Floor Area Ratio (“FAR”) above the base FAR for projects that agree to include an affordable housing component. The CASP also includes “on- and off-menu” incentives for projects that participate in the Density Bonus Program. The on-menu incentives include increases in the amount of residential FAR permitted in a project and an increase in the maximum height. The off-menu incentives permit an applicant to request a waiver from development standards set forth in the CASP or the Los Angeles Municipal Code.
  • Transfer of Floor Area: The CASP allows unused FAR to be transferred between properties within the CASP area. Both residential and non-residential projects can purchase unused FAR from other eligible properties to maximize FAR.
  • Streamlined Project Approval: Projects complying with CASP standards are eligible for an “Administrative Clearance” approval procedure. The environmental impact report prepared for the CASP fully assessed environmental impacts for projects that comply with the CASP’s standards, allowing projects approved via the Administrative Clearance to avoid additional CEQA review.
  • New Zones: The CASP contains four new zones: a Greenway Zone, Urban Village Zone, Urban Center Zone and an Urban Innovation Zone. The Greenway Zone provides for open space along the Los Angeles River. The Urban Village, Urban Center and Urban Innovation Zones all allow for mixed-use developments and are intended to promote a robust mix of light industrial, residential and commercial uses.
  • Parking: Because the CASP area is well served by public transit, there are no minimum parking requirements. This is a first of its kind strategy for the City of Los Angeles.
  • Reduced Lot Area: The number of dwelling units permitted in residential developments is not limited by the minimum unit size provisions of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. With an eye toward increasing the supply of affordable housing, the CASP allows projects to build smaller residential units that can be rented at lower rates.

The ordinance enacting the CASP (Ordinance No. 182,617) became effective on August 14, 2013. Whether the CASP’s innovative strategies will be successful in enticing new economic development and the range of housing choices envisioned remains to be seen, but the CASP has created a new blueprint offering real opportunities to achieve these goals. If you have any questions about the opportunities the CASP presents as it relates to developments or properties located in the CASP area please contact us.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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