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Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan Addresses Affordable Housing Concerns

When it comes to city planning, a myriad of interests have to be balanced. Just ask Claire Bowin, the city planner in charge of shepherding the creation and ultimate approval of the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP). It is a process that began in 2007 after the finalization of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP).

In an open house and public hearing right before Labor Day, City Planning unveiled the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) after some delays due its relationship with the now-dissolved CRA L.A. The FEIR represents a record of all the concerns received and City Planning's response about the proposed specific plan -- an ambitious project that covers a 660-acre area bisected by the Los Angeles River within Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park and Chinatown neighborhoods.

The CASP divides the area into four zones: Greenway, which provides for open space; Urban Center, which allows residential and employment within the same site; Urban Village, which allows commercial, residential and industrial uses within the same area; and Urban Innovation, which allows industrial employment uses.

The plan outlines a 15 percent open space requirement and even increases that requirement to 50 percent within 300 feet of the Los Angeles River or Arroyo Seco. The CASP encourages a more active street life by orienting buildings to pedestrians instead of parking lots, providing for retail uses on the ground floor and limiting block lengths. The plan also puts more emphasis on alternative forms of transportation by adding bike lines, providing car share and unbundled parking, and access to bus and Metro stations. Overall, the plan builds up to a denser, greener, more transit-oriented location. Perfect, right? Almost.

"The biggest concern was affordable housing. That the plan wasn't going to do enough," said Bowin. The previous version gave developers 3 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) or the right to build up to three times the area of their lot without having to build any affordable housing. A 100,000-square foot lot would then allow a maximum of 300,000-square foot of building to be constructed.

In the final version, FAR was limited to 2.5, especially in the Urban Village, one of the four zones meant primarily for residential purposes. Developers who include plans to build affordable housing would be eligible for FARs above 2.5.

"We think it's really important to incentivize affordable housing so we think 2.5 FAR is the right balance," said Bowin, "but I don't think that anybody in either camp agrees." Opinions from advocates on either camp differ. Developers would much prefer a 3 FAR, which would help them maximize returns on their investments in the property. Affordable housing advocates would like to maintain the extant 1.5 FAR, which would keep development at bay. City Planning however is confident it's struck the right balance.

Time will tell if the public agrees with city planners. The CASP is tentatively scheduled to go before the City Planning Commission on October 11. Bowin continues to take comments on the CASP.

If all goes very, very smoothly, we might see a final, approved specific plan before the end of June 2013. Good news for everyone who's been in limbo, sitting and waiting to see the final outcome before moving into the area. "We would like to get this done and get this implemented, so developers can come and work in this area," said Bowin, "Right now everything's kind of been in a standstill."

Read all about the CASP. Send your comments to Claire Bowin at claire.bowin@lacity.org.

Top: Los Angeles State Historic Park. Photo by calvinfleming used under a Creative Commons license

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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