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Voters approved incentives for density near transit stops—now some projects in jeopardy

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“Thousands of homes... will be held up until this issue is resolved”

Some of the projects at stake are in Koreatown.
By trekandshoot / Shutterstock

The future of more than 1,300 transit-friendly apartments or condos, including 214 affordable units, planned mostly in Hollywood and Koreatown, is up in the air.

At least 25 residential projects, with a combined 1,350 units, are now in limbo citywide. The projects were designed to take advantage of incentives that were approved by voters in 2016 to encourage more affordable housing and dense development near transit stops.

But city officials have discovered that the projects are planned for sites with competing land-use plans.

“Thousands of homes... will be held up until this issue is resolved,” said Shane Phillips, director of policy for Central City Association.

Phillips, speaking Tuesday to the City Council’s planning and land use management committee, said the disconnect would likely have repercussions beyond the 25 known projects.

“There are undoubtedly hundreds more units that have [been delayed]” since June, when CRA/LA sent a memo about the discrepancy, he said.

CRA/LA is the city’s successor agency to California’s defunct community redevelopment agencies. The redevelopment agencies were dissolved in 2012, but they left behind about 20 land-use plans that lay out development guidelines for areas of the city the agency had intended to revamp.

Six of those plans contain land-use limitations that could be detrimental to or even totally halt dense, “transit-oriented communities” in pockets of Koreatown, Hollywood, North Hollywood, and the Arts District and the Fashion District in Downtown LA.

Because the redevelopment agency was a state agency, its rules override LA’s transit oriented communities incentives, which were created by Measure JJJ, a ballot measure approved by voters in the city of Los Angeles in 2016.

The incentive program allows developers to construct bigger buildings near bus, train, and subway stops than would normally be allowed in exchange for folding affordable units into their projects.

The program has proven popular with developers (sometimes to the detriment of older, rent-controlled buildings). The city received applications for 112 such projects containing 5,571 housing units—1,145 of which were for low-income households—in the first year after the incentives were offered, Craig Lawson reports on Urbanize LA.

The roughly 25 projects affected by the conflict are located in former redevelopment zones, and almost all are in Koreatown or Hollywood, two of the city’s busiest development hubs, says Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who asked the committee to look into the issue. Planning department records obtained by Curbed indicate as many as 36 projects could be impacted now.

Officials with CRA/LA have said that there are “ongoing discussions” with the city’s planning department and the city attorney’s office on the issue, but a path forward has not been announced.

In the meantime, the planning and land use management committee on Tuesday directed planning staffers to report back within a month with more details on what’s being done to resolve the issue, along with information on the status of the 25 projects.

The goal is to “ensure that we continue our forward momentum on the production of housing ... and the Department of City Planning is providing a clear direction to those working towards those goals,” said Tony Arranaga, a spokesperson for O’Farrell.