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New Ordinance To Lay Groundwork For
Adaptive Reuse Projects In Long Beach

By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer

December 3, 2013 – In an effort to encourage adaptive reuse of existing buildings, the Long Beach Planning Commission voted November 21 to create an ordinance that provides a clear pathway for developers of adaptive reuse projects.

“What we really have been striving for is to have people come to us with creative ideas for reusing existing buildings in all sorts of different ways,” Steve Gerhardt, senior planner for Long Beach Development Services’ Planning Bureau, told the Business Journal.

Adaptive reuse, as it is to be defined in the new ordinance, is “a construction or remodeling project that reconfigures existing spaces, structures or buildings to accommodate a new use or to accommodate another purpose than what it was originally designed for.”

While the official ordinance has yet to be drawn up by the city attorney, a staff report summarizing it indicates that, in addition to concretely defining adaptive reuse, it will establish a requirement for a site plan review for most adaptive reuse projects. The ordinance will also accommodate the current setback and height of existing buildings as well as their often-limited parking availability.

At the meeting, Director of Development Services Amy Bodek noted that “parking is going to be a challenge” for adaptive reuse projects. Typically, expanding existing properties or increasing their number of internal units necessitates more parking spaces, but, when working with existing buildings, it is sometimes difficult to create those spaces. The staff report summary of the proposed ordinance indicates that the “overall number of existing parking spaces” must be maintained for adaptive reuse projects.

Two pages of the staff report outline specific parking requirements for designated “parking-impacted areas” and for parking in general. A provision indicates that these requirements may be altered if approved during the site plan review process.

Planning staff is also developing a policy manual for building safety modifications, such as fire access and structural strength issues, to consider when undertaking adaptive reuse projects, according to Gerhardt.

Rather than creating an ordinance restricting what types of buildings should be adaptively reused, the ordinance instead aims to outline a process by which developers must pursue such projects, Gerhardt explained. “We are trying to remain flexible,” he added.

At the November 21 meeting, Commissioner Melani Smith said the ordinance might need more guidelines. “It sort of reads to me as though it could apply to any building anywhere,” she said. She asked if the ordinance should be more specific as to which types of buildings are eligible for adaptive reuse, thereby identifying areas of the city to be incentivized or targeted. Bodek responded that the ordinance is going to be flexible in order to accommodate varying types of adaptive reuse.

Downtown Long Beach was identified as one such targeted area in the Downtown Plan, which is a set of development and design standards meant to contribute to a greater vision for downtown. The plan was approved last year. Recent adaptive reuse projects in downtown include Meeker-Baker – the former Press-Telegram and The American Hotel buildings – into office space. Other buildings downtown have been repurposed from commercial space into residences, such as the Walker building at Pine Avenue and 4th Street, which formerly housed a department store.

Gerhardt said the ordinance is meant to be flexible to accommodate many “corridors with a wide mix of uses” within the city. Other ordinances, he said, only allow for adaptive reuse of buildings into residential properties. “We wanted to be a little broader than that,” he said. “We’ve got industrial buildings that might lend themselves to creative office or live/work space or art galleries.”

Adaptive reuse also promotes sustainability, which city staff encourages, Gerhardt pointed out. “The best thing we can do is try to reuse all or a portion of an existing building rather than tear it all down and rebuild anew,” he said.

Under the new ordinance, Gerhardt said developers looking to invest in adaptive reuse projects would have to explain what purpose they would be adapting existing buildings for, how much of the original structures would be left intact and what systems within the buildings would be replaced or upgraded. After these basics were squared away, the project would enter the plan check phase (verifying the compliance of a building’s plans) and a site plan review process for approval.

Gerhardt said staff is aiming to bring the ordinance before the city council in March, either for a preliminary study session or for a vote.