Debbie Lawrence, a city planner with the City of Los Angeles Planning Department, discussed how the commercial district on Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey can be enhanced through a Community Design Overlay (CDO) or a Mixed-use Incentive District at a community meeting Wednesday, March 11th, at the Inn at Playa del Rey.

Lawrence said there are no plans for a design overlay district at this time for the Playa del Rey area.

The meeting was to inform local residents about Community Design Overlay and Mixed-use Incentive districts.

The framework for community planning begins with the citywide General Plan framework to the Land Use Element of the General Plan, which is comprised of 35 community plans that include the Westchester-Playa del Rey Community Plan, last updated in 2004.

A Community Design Overlay regulates design only, not land use, parking requirements or other uses. Some land use regulation is possible through ìQî conditions and design guidelines, and standards can be tailored to the specific needs of each individual district, said Lawrence.

A mixed-use district creates incentives for projects combining commercial uses with housing; allows additional height and/or floor area for mixed-use projects; and has limited flexibility in applying design standards from the Los Angeles Municipal Code.

The Westchester-Playa del Rey Community Plan is a blueprint for development and long-range growth and sets goals and policies for the community, including a map that shows types of uses allowed on each parcel ó residential, commercial, industrial, open space and public facilities ó as well as an urban design chapter with design policies.

The Culver Boulevard commercial center in Playa del Rey presents issues and opportunities that are identified in the community plan, according to Lawrence.

Issues include a lack of a strong visual identity that encourages business vitality and physical constraints that severely limit availability of needed off-street parking in many portions of this beach area.

Opportunities include encouraging beach orientation of a commercial district and a pedestrian-friendly environment through design standards as well as encouraging the area to develop as retail and service areas for local residents and visitors.

Lawrence said that the goal is to strengthen and enhance the major commercial districts of Westchester-Playa del Rey communities into distinctive, pedestrian-friendly areas providing civic, social and recreational activities, and to encourage mixed-use development in appropriate commercial areas to stimulate pedestrian activity and provide housing near employment, shopping and other services.

The California Coastal Act requires visitor-serving commercial uses in this area.

Design considerations for Culver Boulevard include pedestrian entrances from Culver, promotion of mixed-use development and prohibiting residential uses on ground floors fronting Culver Boulevard.

A Community Design Overlay district regulates quality of built environment by improving the quality of building and site design through design standards and guidelines, promoting distinctive character, stability and visual quality of existing neighborhoods, and preventing development of unacceptable exterior design.

The CDO districts apply to a specific geographic area, are enabled by L.A. Municipal Code Section 13.08, are for new developments and alterations, do not apply to interiors with standards in addition to the LAMC, and donít interfere with underlying zoning.

Typical CDO guidelines are for differentiation of commercial and living space, window transparency, appropriate placement of signage, location of parking and vehicular access landscaping.

A mixed-use district encourages mixed-use developments by height and/or floor area incentives, usually prohibit residential-only projects in commercial zones, establish certain basic development standards to address aesthetics and design, can designate some or all lots in the district as ìpedestrian-oriented,î which are then subject to some additional design guidelines.

Incentives for mixed-use districts include:

An ordinance must establish an incentive for dwelling units; an incentive must allow additional height and/or floor area for mixed-use projects; pedestrian amenities are not included in calculating floor area ratio; reduced parking requirement near transit facilities or a central parking structure;

May allow additional height for faÁade treatments (the individual ordinance may reduce or not allow certain incentives); may allow 20 percent additional height and floor area for certain corner lots; and including community facilities, may allow additional floor area.

The basic design standards of mixed-use districts require landscaping and street trees; projects of six or more units must provide usable open space per the LAMC; horizontal and vertical faÁade articulations are required; signage must comply with commercial corner requirements; dwelling units facing a designated highway must meet noise reduction standards; and rooftop equipment must be screened from view of adjacent streets.

Mixed-use districts can designate some or all lots as ìpedestrian-oriented.î

They are then subject to some additional design guidelines including: ground floor commercial uses are required on entire frontage on commercial street; building frontage must be within five feet of the front lot line; pedestrian entrance must be accessible directly from the sidewalk at grade; vehicular access must be provided from side streets or alleys if available; surface parking lots or structures may not be located on the street frontage; and building frontage must comply with certain transparency requirements.

Business owners and residents overwhelmingly voted against a mixed-use incentive district offering incentives for increased density projects, choosing the CDO which suggests planning features that donít offer incentives.