Deciphering Our Current Zoning System

Deciphering Our Current Zoning System

Before we start, if you don’t know what Zoning is we wrote an article that explains the basic fundamentals of what it is and why it’s important. If you do, then get ready to get into the weeds.

Anatomy Of A Zone

Zoning is a term that most people are vaguely familiar with, but few feel comfortable enough to describe in any particular detail, let alone the zoning applied in their neighborhoods. If you are one of those people, don’t worry, you are in good company. However, those who do know about zoning usually respond with the zone classification “R1” or “C2”, or with the general use that the zone allows such as “residential” or “industrial”. However, this is leaving out some really important details.

In the City of Los Angeles, the zoning of a property is actually made up of two or more parts. To help demonstrate the anatomy of a zone, below is an example of a zone you might see along a commercial corridor:

Anatomy Of A Zone

Prefix

This is where you will find site- or project-specific provisions which are established by ordinance as part of the Zone for a lot. These are in the form of T Conditions (Tentative Zone Classifications) and Q Conditions (Qualified Classifications). T Conditions are City Council requirements for public improvements as a result of zone changes. Q Conditions are restrictions on property as a result of zone changes, to ensure compatibility with surrounding property. To figure out what the applicable regulations are, you will need to track down and read the specific ordinance that established it, and the easiest way to find that is by using our Zoning Information and Map Access System (ZIMAS).

Zone Class

The Zone Class contains basic requirements and restrictions such as permitted uses, minimum lot area, and required yards. There are a total of 35 types of zoning classifications in the City of Los Angeles that go from “OS” Open Space (most restrictive) to “PF” Public Facility (least restrictive).They are categorized and labeled with a prefix: O = open space; A = agricultural; R = residential; C = commercial; M = manufacturing; or PF = public facilities. Within each category, there are subcategories based on intensity. For instance, the M3 Zone permits more intensive uses than the M2, and the M2 permits more intensive uses than are allowed in M1. In general, uses that are allowed in less intensive zones are also allowed in more intensive zones. This means that almost anything, except residential uses, may be built in a M3 Zone, while relatively little may be built in a RE Residential Estate Zone. To find these regulations you will need to look up each Zone’s section in the Zoning Code, which is Chapter 1 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC).

It is important to note that there are also several regulations found in other parts of the Zoning Code that also apply, such as Section 12.21. General Provision, Section 12.22. Exceptions, and Section 12.24. Conditional Use Permits and other Similar Quasi-Judicial Approvals.

Height District 

The Height District will determine the maximum building height limit in feet, number of stories, or floor area ratio. There are four Height Districts numbering 1 through 4, in addition to five specialized Height Districts. To find the regulations applied by this part of the Zone you will need to start in Section 12.21.1. of the Zoning Code.

Height Districts are sometimes accompanied by a letter “D”, which indicate the presence of “D Limits” or Development Limitations which further restrict heights, floor area ratio, percent of lot coverage, and building setbacks.To figure out what the applicable regulations are, you will need to track down and read the specific ordinance that established it, and the easiest way to find that is by using ZIMAS ; going to the “Case Numbers” tab on the navigation column, and looking through each of the ordinance listed for the subject property.

Again, it is important to note that there are also several regulations found in other parts of the Zoning Code that also apply.

Overlay

There are areas in the City which are subject to Overlays (or Supplemental Use Districts) that apply additional regulations beyond those required by the base zone regulations, usually to protect or create certain neighborhood characteristics.  Today, more than two-thirds of the property in the City contain one or more Overlays in their zoning, so a typical zone is more like “R1-1-HPOZ” or “[Q]C2-1”. This means that, for most lots, it is critical to review the regulations in those Overlays and the Zoning Code to get a complete picture of what is allowed. To figure out what the applicable regulations are, you will need to find which specific Overlay applies by using ZIMAS and going to the “Planning and Zoning” tab on the navigation column.You will then need to look up Article 3 of the Zoning Code,;and/or the individual Overlay documents.

Real World Example

To use an actual example, here is a breakdown of the regulations for a block in the West Los Angeles Community Plan are along Wilshire Boulevard that is zoned [Q]C4-2-CDO:

Current Zone Regulation Example

To figure out what is allowed on this property will require the review of multiple sections of the Zoning Code, Overlay provisions, and ordinances, as well as a few compare and contrast exercises. Keep in mind that we haven’t even begun to discuss the General Provisions (Section 12.21.), Exceptions (Section 12.22.), and Conditional Use (Section 12.24.) sections of the Zoning Code, which also needs to be review to get a clear picture of what allowed.

This can seem a bit daunting, but the Department City Planning is here to help you. We have several resources available throughout our Department website, but if you require further assistance please visit one of our Development Services Centers.