LA Zoning Update

The City of Los Angeles is in the midst of a years-long process to update its zoning code, which has not been comprehensively revised since 1946. The current zoning code reflects a bygone era of Los Angeles development that supported a strict hierarchy of uses, high parking requirements, and low-slung single-family residential neighborhoods.

The re: code project looks to bring the zoning code up to the needs and standards of the 21st century, moving from a classical Euclidian zoning system to incorporate more form- and incentive-based elements which will encourage more mixed use and consistent building design standards. In this installment of the Brick+Work blog, we will summarize what the new zoning code will look like.

How the New Code Works:

To understand the direction that the City is taking in drafting re:code, it is worth looking at the the components of the current zoning format:

Prefix: These can include T Conditions (Tentative Zone Classifications) or Q Conditions (Qualified Classifications). T Conditions are City Council requirements as a result of Zone Changes. Q Conditions are restrictions on properties that go beyond what is required by the zoning code. These can take the form of tentative Q conditions (Q), which are restrictions tied to Zone Change entitlements or permanent Q conditions [Q], which are used in certain areas to ensure compatibility with surrounding development.

  • Zone Class: Determines allowed uses, lot measurement requirements, setbacks.
  • Height District: Determines maximum height (feet and stories) and floor area ratio.
  • D Limits: Further restricts Height District standards.
  • Overlay: Applies additional regulations beyond those required by base zone, usually to protect or create certain neighborhood characteristics.

Classifications of the Code

When the LA zoning code was adopted in 1946, the zoning notation only included the zone, of which there were 16 separate classifications which broadly broke down to Agriculture, Residential, Commercial, and Industrial. The additional components found in the current zoning notation were added piecemeal to accommodate the nuance of a large city with a highly diverse range of development patterns.

As a result, the current code is a labyrinth of conflicting overlays that interact with each other in puzzling ways. One of the principal goals of re:code is to organize the various standards into a uniform code that can be applicable across the entire city. Here is how it will work:

  • Form: This will determine the massing and articulation of the building. Parameters determined by form district are FAR, setbacks, upper-story stepbacks, and lot size requirements.
  • Frontage: Determines the exterior building façade and the building’s relationship to the public realm. These standards will include build-to range, entrance requirements, and window standards.
  • Standards: General development parameters including parking, access, signage, lighting, grading, and construction requirements.
  • Use: Describes permitted uses, conditionally permitted uses, accessory uses, and use standards.
  • Density: Determines maximum allowable multifamily residential density.

So what does this mean?

This updated organizational structure will enable a more customizable code that can tailor to the specific needs of each neighborhood in the City. In the current code, there are 714 unique combinations of Base zone, height district, and supplemental use district. While the various districts for re:code have not yet been finalized, it is anticipated that the possible zoning combinations will be several times what it is today. Aside from the flexibility and modularity of re:code, it also expands on form-based building characteristics and performance standards that are not governed by current zoning. This could also help to streamline the entitlement and permitting process, which we will review in further detail in a later analysis.

Check our blog for more information on Re:Code LA and other land use trends in Southern California.