People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Cameron Crockett, AIA, principal of Ultra-Unit Architectural Studio, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.
Let me describe what we as a Long Beach architectural office deal with on an almost weekly basis. Property owners approach us to analyze using “feasibility studies” to assess if improving their property through the possibility of adding additional square footage, improving the appearance or changing the use of their building will make them more profitable or even at a minimum allow them to recapture their improvement costs through an increase in rent revenues.
Anaheim Street, Pacific Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach Boulevard, 7th Street, 4th Street and many other major arteries in our city are plagued by buildings which are radically under parked compared to current zoning standards and have little or no onsite parking. Long Beach zoning standards since the 1980s have required substantial parking for any new building, however this does not apply retroactively to the 50-plus years of buildings built prior to the 80s in which parking requirements were oftentimes low or waived entirely.
The property owners that come into my office most commonly are not the tenants of their buildings and rent to businesses or residents. It's probably paid off or has a very low payment requirement since it has been owned for decades and it probably shows a month-to-month profitability.
When this owner walks into my office and expresses interest in upgrading his or her property in some way he or she often times cannot because the property does not meet current parking standards and is considered “existing non-conforming” status. Meaning the property is good as is, according to zoning standards, but if owners improve the property substantially they will be asked to also comply with new standards for ADA accessibility, parking, structural, title 24 energy compliance and others. The owner does some quick math and realizes that without being able to add square footage (added rent income) to recapture his investment in improvements, that there really is no monetary argument to be made for improvement.
For me and my firm we want to improve our city, we want to adapt the old buildings, and we want to create a better environment to live in, but without the fiscal argument these opportunities are limited.
Now, in comes the Land Use Element!
“Ok Mr. / Mrs. Property owner. We the City of Long Beach will give you the ability to have greater density through height allowances, but you will need to bring your building up to code and you will need to add parking to the entire building.”
Mr. / Mrs. owner does the math and realizes that the additional revenues offered by greater densities in fact more than make up for the improvement costs and spends money on the building. The city gets an improved architectural asset and here is the kicker – what had no parking previously now has added substantially more parking. In an office setting this would be one parking spot for 200 square feet meaning that a 2000-square-foot. building would require 10 more parking spaces – that did not previously exist!
Critics are very focused on the parking impacts of new density and development. What is lost is that new development replacing old development is adding substantially more parking than would be available otherwise. The increase in density allows a scale of new development that can absorb and rectify planning mistakes of the past and at the same time monetarily incentivize updates to our existing building stock.
As a professional who works with our planning department on an almost daily basis I can say with all assurances that they care a great deal about our city and have the city’s best interests at heart. I think it's terrible that they are being villainized for doing their job and if nothing else I hope this explains the purpose for their interest in density and why it is a valuable tool for our city. I think it's important that we appreciate their efforts and treat them with the professionalism that they deserve.