On May 28, the Beverly Hills Planning Commission considered the details of a zoning change that could affect the makeup of the city: an ordinance creating an overlay zone for mixed-use developments.
Currently, mixed-use projects – like the recently approved Friars Club project – need City Council approval, as they are not part of the city’s general plan. With the commission’s approval of a mixed-use ordinance – it’s expected to be considered on June 19 – and City Council approval, mixed-use projects would only need the approval of the Planning Commission.
Except for Commissioner Lori Greene Gordon, who recused herself because she holds an ownership interest in a property that could be affected by the ordinance, the commissioners advocated for mixed-use developments to be allowed on more than 25% of the commercial properties in Beverly Hills.
“I think, personally, that for mixed use, the time has come in Beverly Hills. It will provide us with more residential units, affordable units, walkable streets, live-work opportunities, and I think it’s something that’s really past due in Beverly Hills,” Chair Alan Robert Block said.
“This is a proactive effort to deal with something that we think is badly needed in the city, for many reasons,” Vice Chair Peter Ostroff added.
The draft ordinance is likely to include properties that are currently zoned for commercial use on Wilshire Boulevard between San Vicente Boulevard and Rexford Drive, on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard between Rexford Drive and South Santa Monica Boulevard, on all parts of La Cienega and Robertson boulevards in the city, on South Santa Monica Boulevard between Wilshire Boulevard and Moreno Drive, on Olympic Boulevard from Rexford Drive to the eastern city limit, in the 100 block of South Beverly Drive and on the west side of South Doheny Drive.
The Business Triangle – including the north side of Wilshire Boulevard between Rexford Drive and South Santa Monica Boulevard – is not likely to be included for mixed-use developments, as the city might encourage more nightlife, and that would likely conflict with the residents of any potential mixed-use developments.
Any new mixed-use developments would likely be limited to a three-story, 45-foot building on commercial properties that are adjacent to single-family zoning, though in areas that are zoned for multi-family housing, the maximum height increases to four stories and 45 feet, or five stories and 55 feet, depending on the height of the adjacent multi-family zoning.
Some points of contention, however, were the proposed requirement of an average unit size of 1,750 square feet and a reduced parking requirement for developers.
Senior Planner Timothea Tway said an average unit size requirement would help encourage the construction of more affordable units.
“This gives the developer flexibility to decide what size units they’d like, if they’d like to provide a few large units and some small units, but it also ensures that a development isn’t entirely made up of 4,000-square-foot luxury units,” Tway said.
Reducing the required number of parking spaces per unit will also help developers keep costs down so more affordable units can be built, Tway added.
Commissioner Andy Licht pushed back against the unit size requirement, as he said limiting the number of high-end units would drive longtime residents out of the city when they seek to downsize from a single-family home to a condominium or apartment.
“I’m in total agreement to have affordable housing and have smaller units for all different levels of income, but don’t eliminate the higher-end people that we want to keep in the city and keep in our tax base, residents who have been here for 30, 40, 50 years,” Licht said.
Licht also pointed out that if the parking requirements were kept at their standard level, developers could still go to the city and seek a variance, as they do currently for mixed-use developments.
Ostroff said the state will likely require Beverly Hills to build 3,000 new housing units in the next 10 years, and the city needs more proposed projects if that goal is to be met.
“We also have to encourage people to try things, and if they look at things and they think, ‘No, this isn’t going to work,’ – and we have much too much of that as it is, and much too little in the way of proposals … we’re going to get nowhere, and that’s not where I want to be. I want us to generate interest in trying to develop in our city without changing the character of the city,” Ostroff said.
However, Commissioner Farshid Joe Shooshani said the mixed-use ordinance does not go far enough if the city aims to meet that goal.
“We’d better [approve the mixed-use ordinance] and do this fast and go to the city as an emergency … and redo our entire city plan, all of it, and change it fast. I think we should pass this immediately, and then go change the entire thing fast. It’s an emergency,” Shooshani said.
Block and Ostroff argued that a first step is important, and the commission is working on ideas that Block said “would be a good start.”
“It may be only a minutial portion of the numbers that we’re going to need, but we have to start somewhere,” Block said.
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