A bill introduced today in the California State Legislature by Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco could ease the construction of dense apartment and condo complexes near rail stations in cities up and down the coast.
The proposed legislation, known as SB-827, would impose minimum zoning near major transit lines, bypassing the more restrictive regulations that have been adopted by many local jurisdictions. The key section of the bill reads:
… Notwithstanding any local ordinance, general plan element, specific plan, charter, or other local law, policy, resolution, or regulation, a transit-rich housing project shall receive a transit-rich housing bonus which shall exempt the project from all of the following:
(1) Maximum controls on residential density or floor area ratio.
(2) Minimum automobile parking requirements.
(3) Any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.
(4) (A) If the transit-rich housing project is within either a one-quarter mile radius of a high-quality transit corridor or within one block of a major transit stop, any maximum height limitation that is less than 85 feet, except in cases where a parcel facing a street that is less than 45 feet wide from curb to curb, in which case the maximum height shall not be less than 55 feet. If the project is exempted from the local maximum height limitation, the governing height limitation for a transit-rich housing project shall be 85 feet or 55 feet, as provided in this subparagraph.
(B) If the transit-rich housing project is within one-half mile of a major transit stop, but does not meet the criteria specified in subparagraph (A), any maximum height limitation that is less than 55 feet, except in cases where a parcel facing a street that is less than 45 feet wide from curb to curb, in which case the maximum height shall not be less than 45 feet. If the project is exempted from the local maximum height limitation, the governing height limitation for a transit-rich housing project shall be 55 feet or 45 feet, as provided in this subparagraph.
(C) For purposes of this paragraph, if a parcel has street frontage on two or more different streets, the height maximum pursuant to this paragraph shall be based on the widest street.
Major transit stops are defined by State law as "an existing rail transit station, a ferry terminal served by either a bus or rail transit service, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of service interval of 15 minutes or less during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods." The bill also notes that a "high-quality transit corridor" refers to a corridor with fixed-route bus service with peak-hour service at 15-minute intervals or less.
SB-827, if adopted into law, has major implications for Los Angeles County, which has been in a more-or-less constant buildout of its rail and bus rapid transit network since the mid-1980s. Development around new Metro Rail stations has become a contentious issue, with housing advocates frequently butting heads with local elected officials. This has been highlighted most recently by the relatively modest plan to rezone some properties surrounding recently-opened stations on the Expo Line extension, which drew protest from Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, whose office argued against allowing higher-density apartment complexes near single-family neighborhoods.
The bill, if approved as written, could also upend other planning efforts by the City of Los Angeles. This includes the hodgepodge of historic preservation overlay zones that restrict development on many properties surrounding the Miracle Mile - which will soon be served by the extension of the Purple Line subway.
Smaller jurisdictions throughout Los Angeles County centered along legacy rail right-of-ways could see their even more restrictive zoning regulations thrown out the window.
For a look at current and future Metro Rail stations, with a half-mile radius mapped around each, see below. It is worth noting that the proposed legislation may also apply to many high-frequency bus lines, which are not included on the map.
SB-827 Planning and zoning: transit-rich housing bonus (CA Legislature)