Could Streamlining Adaptive Reuse Throughout LA Help The City Respond To Covid-Fueled Real Estate Changes?

Despite a rollback on pandemic-related restrictions and a far-reaching nationwide factory reopening for June, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on commercial real estate is still in full swing. For the retail, hotel and office sectors, whether they will recover, to what extent and when they seem to be the subject of an almost daily debate.

A group of downtown Los Angeles business and real estate owners, the Central City Association, sees an opportunity to help the commercial real estate community respond to the next steps by making it easier to convert buildings across LA to use is out of date. The organization released a white paper this week setting out just that and making recommendations on how to improve the rules to give owners and developers even more flexibility.

The building in eastern Colombia was originally a department store and is now a condominium complex.

“This is a proactive response to the major challenges downtown and the rest of the city are facing,” said Jessica Lall, CEO and President of the Central City Association.

According to Lall, many credit the smooth flow of adaptive reuse projects in Downtown LA for helping accelerate the transformation of the area from a night-time job hub to a place where high-rise workers and other professionals live and have fun. Bars and other entertainment.

The city’s existing adaptive reuse rules encourage the conversion of older buildings in certain areas from obsolete uses to new, more relevant uses, including homes and hotels, by streamlining the process of approving such projects. However, this only applies to a handful of areas in the city, including Lincoln Heights, Chinatown, the former Hollywood community redevelopment project area and parts of the Wilshire Center / Koreatown redevelopment center.

The CCA would like a similarly simplified process across the city so that builders beyond this small group of neighborhoods can more easily respond to changes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. According to the CCA, the city would facilitate the creation of new residential units.

During the pandemic, Downtown LA emptied as office workers became remote workers, takeaway restaurants moved if they stayed open, and hotels waited for tourists and travelers to return. As recently as the first quarter of this year, a quarter of the city’s office space was available for rent, and many independent businesses across the city reported they weren’t sure if or if their business would return to pre-pandemic levels.

The pandemic could create an opportunity where buildings in the inner city and across the city are not fully used for their intended use. At a time when the city’s housing needs are clear and urgent, it doesn’t make sense to leave them that way, says the CCA’s White Paper. Facilitating adaptive reuse across the city would maximize the effectiveness of a valuable tool, “with a track record of what it can do to revitalize communities,” Lall said.

Jaime Lee, CEO of Jamison Realty, whose company has developed adaptive reuse and ground projects and owns office real estate, said that while she doesn’t see any significant permanent changes to the way office space is used in LA, Covid-19 agrees that easier reuse across LA would facilitate much-needed housing across the city.

“We’re still having a real estate crisis,” Lee said, adding that tens of thousands of people in LA are unprotected, according to the last annual homelessness count. “To the extent that certain buildings are underutilized, regardless of the reasons – whether it’s the pandemic or the life of the building or the changing neighborhood around the building – owners should have the flexibility to meet the needs of the Market with their real estate. ”

The architect Karin Liljegren, founder and director of Omgivning, sees the potential of adaptive reuse to add more residential units to a neighborhood without changing the built-up landscape. It’s a concern that often shows up when neighbors resist new developments.

Keeping some of the older buildings in the background that help give a neighborhood a unique feel – “some of them, not all,” Liljegren said – will keep the links to the past while the neighborhoods can grow into their future . The architecture firm specializes in adaptive reuse projects and has worked on a number of historic reuse projects in the city center. However, Liljegren said that even more modest older structures could enable good reuse projects.

“I still love the idea of ​​converting a mall into residential buildings,” said Liljegren.

The CCA publication promotes the benefits of adaptive reuse as a housing generator and as a sustainable option, citing, among other things, a 2016 report by the National Trust for Historic Preservation which found that “building reuse is almost always less by comparison As new buildings, buildings of similar size and functionality have an environmental impact. “The White Paper also highlights a misunderstanding about the practice and states that it is not always cheaper or faster than a basic design.

The way to really take advantage of adaptive reuse, beyond applying it to the city as a whole, would be to make sure that projects across LA are legally legal, that no new parking spaces are required as part of those projects, and that To extend the age of the buildings that can be used. Buildings that were built after 1974 currently have a “more complex, discretionary approval process for the renovation that triggers the CEQA requirements,” says the CCA paper.

The CCA’s whitepaper is being released as the Department of Urban Planning is currently updating the Downtown LA Community Plan, updating the adaptive recycling rules that apply to that area. They would go into effect when this plan, named DTLA 2040, is adopted by the city.

Los Angeles is also in a year-long process of updating its zone code – formerly known as re: Code LA. The new version would suggest changes that could simplify the process through a citywide program of adaptive reuse projects with affordable housing units, a department spokesman said in an email. These changes would go into effect one area at a time as the current parish plans are updated and go into effect across the city. This gradual process could take years, the CCA said.