JMBM Development Rights: CRA Down-Zoning Under Guise of “Design Guidelines”

On September 20, 2007, during a public board meeting, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) adopted the “North Hollywood Redevelopment Project Commercial Core Urban Design Guidelines”. These design guidelines were presented by CRA staff as providing “some guidance and additional direction for development in the core area, as well as to provide some certainty for the development community.” However, on closer review, these so-called design guidelines were in reality much more. They included new regulations on land use, density, building height and floor area ratio-areas normally reserved for the City Council to regulate.

The design guidelines radically decrease the allowable height, size, floor area and residential density on some projects while significantly increasing the same land use allowances of other similarly situated property sites—namely two parcels owned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). These newly “established” height and density reduction standards for certain property sites directly contradict the City’s Municipal Code and General Plan. In addition, many of the property sites on which the CRA decreased the allowable height and density are sites that are within walking distance of the North Hollywood MTA station—in direct contravention of the City’s stated goal of providing greater density close to public transportation.

For the parcels owned by MTA which have direct portal access to public transit, these property sites can now be built at a density of 108 units per acre and more than 200 feet in height. At the same time, other parcels just a block or two away from the MTA station and facing a busy street were reduced to only 35-55 units per acre and a maximum height of 45-65 feet. While more than doubling the allowable density for the MTA parcels, the CRA effectively down-zoned other parcels to less than half the allowable height and density under the City’s Municipal Code, all under the guise of “design guidelines.”

In its presentation, the CRA staff made assurances to the board that the design guidelines were developed with input from local developers. In fact, under the State’s Health & Safety Code Section 33349(b), the owners of projects affected by the design guidelines were entitled to notice of the hearing. However, most of the area’s developers were never told about these design guidelines and never participated in any discussions. In fact, one property owner who learned of this at the last minute attended the hearing to let the Board know he had no idea these design guidelines were being considered. Other property owners did not attend the meeting because none were given any direct notice of the hearing nor of the potential impact these design guidelines might have on their future development rights.

At the end of the hearing, CRA staff assured its board that the design guidelines would be presented to the City Council for their approval in a public hearing. Several weeks later, after phone calls to the CRA staff, we were told the design guidelines would not go before the City Council and the approval process was complete. This is in direct violation of the North Hollywood Redevelopment Plan, as well as Ordinance No. 171745, which the City Council passed in order to adopt the 1997 Amendment to the Redevelopment Plan.