WVIA working to remove parking, food regulations to help support Village’s economy
Westwood Village is largely quiet amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Local stakeholders are pressing for changes to the Village Specific Plan, a zoning and regulatory framework, in the hopes of enticing businesses to fill empty storefronts during the eventual economic recovery. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin senior staff)
May 13, 2020 7:53 p.m.
Some Westwood Village zoning regulations may be reduced or eliminated if Los Angeles City Planning follows recommendations by a local business association.
The Westwood Village Improvement Association unanimously asked LA City Planning to remove some food establishment and parking regulations in the Westwood Village Specific Plan, a zoning and regulatory framework for the area, during a virtual board meeting Thursday.
The changes have long been anticipated by some Westwood stakeholders who blame provisions in the Specific Plan for the high business vacancy rates in the Village. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Village had a vacancy rate around 20%. With the permanent closure of several businesses, such as Stan’s Donuts, during the stay-at-home order, the rate may well have risen.
The board’s recommendations were made with a heightened concern for the economic outlook of the Village amid the coronavirus pandemic. Board chair Kevin Crummy said he thinks current circumstances call for a regulatory environment with minimal obstacles for new businesses.
“These are absolutely necessary positions for survival in the Village,” Crummy said. “If we ever want to come back, we’re going to need to put an ‘open for business’ sign and make it as easy as possible for people to open businesses.”
The board met with Zuriel Espinosa, an LA City Planning associate, to go over possible amendments to the Specific Plan as part of the outreach phase of the amendment process. Espinosa previously met with the North Westwood Neighborhood Council which endorsed similar amendments March 4.
Espinosa said LA City Planning began considering amending the Specific Plan following the approval of a Los Angeles City Council motion from November 2018. The Specific Plan, which was adopted in 1989, aims to create a balanced mix of business, preserve historic architecture and encourage automobile access to the Village, Espinosa added.
The board first considered the issue of restaurant and fast food establishment definitions, which draw a distinction between the two types of restaurants. They unanimously recommended these definitions be eliminated to enable a variety of food establishments, including more contemporary hybrid restaurants, to set up in the Village without being forced to adhere to imprecise standards.
Board member Peter Clinco, owner of Skylight Gardens, said he does not think it would be useful to distinguish between fast food establishments and restaurants because the pandemic is forcing fine dining establishments to take on fast food characteristics.
“The lines with the COVID-19 issue are going to get blurred as to what constitutes fast food because things may change even in the fine dining business,” Clinco said. “I’m thinking, the best thing we can do is relax or eliminate any requirements for the foreseeable (because) the future is not going to be the way it was before.”
The board also called for the removal of food use ratios – restrictions on the number of different food establishments per street.
Additionally, the board recommended LA City Planning apply general citywide parking requirements to the Village rather than keep the stricter requirements of the Specific Plan. This would include the elimination of Specific Plan parking requirements for hotels, motion pictures, nightclubs and offices. Furthermore, the board asked for the removal of parking requirements that occur when a location changes from one type of business to another.
The board also recommended LA City Planning allow businesses to lease parking spaces rather than enter into long-term covenant agreements with landlords that can be enforced even when property ownership is transferred. Lastly, it asked LA City Planning to increase the allowable distance for off-site parking options from 1,000 feet to 1,320 feet.
Board member Dean Abell, vice president of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers, said he supported the elimination of parking requirements because he thinks it’s too costly to build parking in the Village and secure covenant agreements.
“I’ve been advocating for at least the last five years now that parking restrictions are pretty ridiculous,” Abell said. “These businesses don’t have the ability to create parking spaces in Westwood. … I would love to have dedicated parking for my store, but it’s not possible. … We’ve been there for 50 years with one parking space.”
Abell also voiced his support for the elimination of fast food establishment and restaurant restrictions as well. He said he would welcome whatever food establishment that may draw customers to his retail business.
“If food is what’s bringing people close to my store, I’ll take it,” Abell said. “And that was (true) even before COVID-19 but especially post. We gotta make it as welcoming and easy for any businesses that want to fill our storefronts, so we don’t turn into a ghost town.”