Local officials call for Westwood Village to ease zoning regulations
(Daily Bruin file photo)
By Justin Jung
Sept. 18, 2021 9:53 a.m.
The Westwood Village Specific Plan, a master planning document that governs business regulations in the Village, should be revised to ease restrictions, some local officials said.
The Specific Plan, which was originally adopted in 1989 and later amended in 1991 and 2004, regulates construction and land use in Westwood Village. Westwood’s business improvement district association and neighborhood council have been working to further amend the document since 2017 and 2018, respectively.
As a result of the substantial restrictions on businesses by the Specific Plan, the current vacancy rate in the Village is 32%, said Andrew Thomas, the executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association. He added this marked a more than 50% increase from 21% vacancy in 2019.
The Village is less attractive and competitive for businesses because other neighborhoods in Los Angeles don’t have zoning regulations as restrictive as Westwood, Thomas added. Zoning regulations control what kinds of businesses can move into the Village and what steps are required for them to open.
While the Specific Plan was originally written with good intentions, its policies have become outdated and have inhibited new growth in the Village, said Sachi Cooper, a North Westwood Neighborhood Council undergraduate student member and co-chair of the NWWNC Planning and Land Use Committee.
Among the criticized provisions include parking restrictions that require prospective incoming businesses to guarantee a certain number of parking spots, Thomas said.
However, it is difficult for new businesses to meet these requirements, Thomas said, because developers aren’t adding new parking spots in Westwood. As a result, filling vacancies is nearly impossible, he said.
One way to reconcile parking requirements would be increasing the maximum distance from a business that an operator is allowed to find offsite parking spaces to meet zoning requirements, Thomas said. The greater the range allowed, the greater the opportunity for business operators to meet parking requirements because there are large office buildings on Wilshire Boulevard with plenty of excess parking spaces available that could be leased to businesses, he added.
The Specific Plan also limits the number of fast-food restaurants allowed in the Village, but unlike in other areas, the document broadly defines “fast-food” as a restaurant category to include fast-casual restaurants, which operate as intermediaries between fast and casual dining, Thomas said. As a result, the Specific Plan’s stringent limitations on fast food also apply to businesses like Tender Greens and Starbucks, he added.
A 2020 survey conducted by the WVIA found that 6% of the 2,519 respondents were opposed to any changes to the Specific Plan, with around 60% supporting at least some changes.
To address these concerns, the WVIA and NWWNC have been working with Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz – who represents West LA areas including Westwood – on proposed amendments.
The Westwood Community Plan, a master document that encompasses the Specific Plan, is scheduled to be completely rewritten during the next several years, as part of a citywide effort to update neighborhood community plans, Thomas said.
In order to ease regulations and prepare for the upcoming rewrite, Thomas said the WVIA board originally requested that Koretz file to repeal all of the document’s parts except those pertaining to the protection of cultural resources. However, not all Westwood stakeholders agreed that the Specific Plan should be repealed or amended.
Following disagreements on repealing of the Specific Plan, the WVIA switched to calling for amendments, said Lisa Chapman, the president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, in an emailed statement. Abolishing the Specific Plan entirely would have reverted Westwood zoning requirements to citywide C4 zoning which may be more restrictive, prohibiting entertainment and live music, Chapman added.
Currently, the WVIA is calling for several major amendments to the Specific Plan, including on uses, parking and signage. The proposed amendment on uses would redefine restaurant categories to allow for greater fast-casual options.
The parking amendment would eliminate requirements surrounding changes of use. Currently, change of use regulations require businesses applying to switch from food to retail, or retail to food, to comply with their new type’s parking requirements.
The signage amendment would modify the current business signage approval process by channeling all steps in the process through the city planning department, Thomas said. The amendment would address inefficiency and high potential costs associated with going through the Westwood Village’s design review board, a separate entity, as required by the current Specific Plan, Thomas added.
Furkan Yalcin, the NWWNC president, said he thinks the Specific Plan needs reforms to make it easier for businesses to develop in the Village. The Village’s high vacancy rate – despite the large numbers of UCLA students, faculty and staff frequenting the area – shows that its zoning regulations are too stringent, Yalcin added.
“We’ve got (a one-third) vacancy rate in businesses in Westwood Village, which doesn’t make any sort of sense when you think about the fact that this is a college town … with 60,000 people part of UCLA,” Yalcin said.