In Long Beach’s ongoing effort to update zoning citywide, planners are now focused on the Bixby Knolls area, where some residents have expressed apprehension about the effects that new development could have on parking, while others are excited at the prospect of making the area more walkable.

City planning staff hosted an open house Wednesday night inside the Expo Arts Center on Atlantic Avenue, where easels held up diagrams of the area with different colored blocks indicating the type of development that could be allowed on major corridors like Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach Boulevard and Wardlow Road.

While those corridors are expected to be the most affected by zoning changes, the entire area included in the city’s process is bounded by Long Beach Boulevard on the west and Cherry Avenue on the east, with Union Pacific Railroad line in the north and Wardlow Road making up the southern boundary.

The Wednesday workshop was the first of two to get insight from residents before the city adopts new zoning for the area, something that is expected to happen at the end of 2024.

Alejandro Sanchez-Lopez, a planner with the city who’s overseeing the Bixby Knolls process, said that he thinks the city has been able to learn from previous processes in North, Central and West Long Beach, where the city has completed or is wrapping up what it’s just begun in Bixby Knolls.

Planners could use new zones created through those previous efforts, which means the Bixby Knolls process is not starting from scratch, he said.

“This is about finding out what zones fit best in Bixby Knolls,” Sanchez-Lopez said.

Residents gathered inside the Expo Arts Center study concept maps of the areas where zoning could change in Bixby Knolls. Photo by Jason Ruiz

The changes to zoning are not expected to affect single-family zoned neighborhoods but will focus on major corridors. The city adopted new land use rules in 2018 that updated decades-old zoning rules in the city, however, the city is just now implementing those zones after putting that work on pause because of the pandemic.

Changes could include allowing for future residential development between three and five stories tall, with the potential for mixed-use developments featuring ground-floor retail.

“We want to make sure that people understand we have a shared responsibility for development and why we’re doing this is to address our housing crisis in an equitable way,” Sanchez-Lopez said Wednesday.

While Downtown development has boomed in recent years, other parts of the city have stagnated because zoning didn’t allow for newer, larger buildings to be proposed. Three large developments in Southeast Long Beach that could add about 1,300 units to the area were the result of the city approving new rules for the area to allow residential developments.

The zoning changes in Bixby Knolls wouldn’t mandate what must be built, but it would change what’s possible to be built.

Tom Curtin and Chelsea Barocio recently moved to the area in October from Whittier after purchasing a house and said they’re excited about the changes that could take place, especially on Wardlow, where they said more shops are needed, which could encourage more people to spend time in the neighborhood.

Drivers moves along Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“Having more options, a reason to stop, that would be nice,” Barocio said. “More shade and street trees would help cool the neighborhood because right now it’s just asphalt and auto body shops. It’s pretty hot.”

Curtin said that more housing could provide opportunities for younger, less affluent people to move to the area and increase diversity. It could also create more of a nightlife and entice other businesses to move to the area, and existing businesses to stay open later.

“So long as we’re not building skyscrapers, the new zoning makes sense and it provides an opportunity for the area to grow,” Curtin said.

Michael Kirk, who moved to the city in 2004, said he had reservations about how parking could be affected by future projects, noting that there are already areas of Bixby Knolls that are short on parking.

But Kirk, who has lived in several major cities including Chicago and New York, relented and said: “Things change.”

“This is just another wave of change that’s going to happen to the next generation,” Kirk said.

Sanchez-Lopez said that the public meetings are important for the planners trying to figure out what this specific community wants to be prioritized in the zoning that will eventually be submitted to the City Council for approval in 2024.

“The more collaborative the process, the better the zoning will be,” he said.

To sign up for updates on the process including future meeting dates click here

New zoning aimed at increasing commercial space in West Long Beach heads to City Council

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.