Long Beach could turn to incentives and zoning changes to help drive retail development on major corridors west of the 710 Freeway, an area where residents have complained about the lack of access to basic resources like banks and grocery stores.
The area has been subject to a building moratorium since 2021, when Councilmember Roberto Uranga, who represents West Long Beach, called for the freeze on developments along the Santa Fe Avenue and Willow Street corridors, citing the building of single-family homes in areas where other types of development could better serve the community.
The moratorium was extended in June as city planners worked to gauge community needs and come up with options for how to change zoning along the corridors to help address the dearth of community-serving businesses.
Long Beach Planning Commissioners were presented with a potential solution Thursday night during a study session to examine how new zones could encourage different developments in West Long Beach.
City planners are proposing creating new zones at certain intersections along Santa Fe Avenue that would forbid residential-only projects to help drive retail to the area. The new zones would also offer incentives for building banks, pharmacies and grocery stores by allowing developers to build bigger footprints for select businesses.
The tentative intersections that would be included in those zones are at Hill Street, Spring Street, Willow Street and Wardlow Road. They would allow for mixed-use residential where commercial uses are included in a proposed project.
“Part of the problem is zoning and finding an appropriate place, and the other part is the blight that there has been and the disregard for this part of the city,” said Tony Bell, president of the community group Westside Elevate.
Bell credited city planning staff for listening to residents’ concerns and putting their priorities into action in the proposed zoning and said that residents are doing their part to help clean up the neighborhood and lobby banks and grocery stores to set up shop in West Long Beach.
This week, Westside Elevate helped decorate trashcans for area businesses, and the group has been flagging disrepair in the area with the Go Long Beach app to alert city crews to broken sidewalks and other things contributing to the blight. Bell said the proposed zoning is a promising first step.
“It’s going to be a long road to get the businesses here and have them open and be successful,” Bell said, “but every journey starts with a small step.”
The city’s rezoning effort to update old code was expected to take five years and has been conducted in sequences, with North Long Beach being rezoned in 2020 and Central Long Beach rezoning efforts starting in 2022. West Long Beach was originally near the end of the city’s planned cycle, but it was bumped up as the moratorium is set to expire soon.
The Planning Commission could vote on the new zones as soon as March, and the issue could go before the City Council in April. The moratorium on development along the corridors is set to expire June 15.
“My goal has always been to increase investment in neighborhood-serving uses on the corridor and these recommendations are a step in the right direction,” Uranga said in an email Friday. “I look forward to a robust discussion with my colleagues at City Council.”
The zoning changes could require the city to update its Housing Element, which was approved by the state last year. The plan identified parcels across the city to show there was room for the 26,500 units the city is estimated to need over the next six years.
Because some of those parcels are in the proposed new zones in West Long Beach, officials would have to make up for any lost housing units by identifying new parcels in other parts of the city. A total of 36 parcels totaling 338 units (205 of which would be affordable) could be within the West Long Beach zoning changes, according to the presentation given to the Planning Commission.