High tech parking is a gamechanger for LA real estate

Hytone tower parking system
A photo of an automated parking hytone puzzle system
Automated parking puzzle system

Los Angeles remains one of the hottest real estate development markets in the country. However, this has also put a larger strain on an already prevalent parking problem. In fact, according to a recent UCLA study, 30% of traffic in Los Angeles is a result of people looking for parking in highly congested areas. The study also found that approximately 4.2 million tons of extra CO2 are released as a result.

This innovative automated approach to parking not only alleviates issues with space but also keeps up with the pace of technology in an ever-growing automated world.

What is automated parking?

For developers aiming to build in already full urban centers, automated parking is a game changer. One of its biggest benefits is that the systems require less space than that of a traditional structure. This allows developers to build more rentable square footage while maintaining adequate capacity for cars.

There are three main types of automated parking systems: Bi directional, tower automated, and puzzle. Each of these system types are developed to best fit the property layout and size.

A picture of a Bi-Directional automated parking hytone parking system
A bi-directional automated parking system for a large development property

Automated parking creates accessibility where there was none. Land that was less profitable due to space constraints is suddenly more valuable. Additionally, automated parking cuts down car retrieval time and gives patrons a streamlined parking experience. This is truly the wave of the future.

Understanding the Letter of Determination

Sample Letter of Determination for Los Angeles Development Project

What is a Letter of Determination?

After submitting a project proposal to the City Planning Commission, you will receive a Letter of Determination (LOD) if the proposal is approved. Essentially, the letter serves as the first step to building your property. This includes approval of any Conditional Use Permits (CUPs), zone variance requests and/or other entitlements not included in the “by-right” zoning laws.

The following is an excerpt from the first page of an LOD for a proposed private high school Woodland Hills. This LOD cover page shows exactly what is “determined”:

Source: LA City Planning Commission

Conditions of Approval

A Letter of Determination includes a “conditions of approval” section. This means that the building plans will be approved only if they meet the additional requirements outlined in the letter.

These requirements are often add-ons that benefit or protect the surrounding neighborhood.

The excerpt below – taken from the same LOD above – is an example of a conditional requirement:

Source: LA City Planning Commission

Here, the Forestry Division must approve the landscape plans outlined by the city before building plans are ok’ed. Because the condition is included in the LOD, the city will expect this to be in the proposed building plans.

A condition may also specify such things as maximum capacity or designated hours of operation:

Source: LA City Planning Commission
Source: LA City Planning Commission

If you need to modify conditions laid out in the LOD, there is an opportunity to appeal. Take note that this will add more time to the approval and building process.

Things to keep in mind:

LOD Time constraints:

A Letter of Determination is only good for 3 years from the date of approval. Thus, unless you are ready to build within this period, you should not go through the proposal process, which can take up to year. Otherwise, you will have to draft another project proposal and reapply.

LOD does not equal a building permit

While receiving a Letter of Determination is a huge milestone in the development process, it encompasses only a portion of what you need to actually start building. Essentially, the LOD gives you approval of what you can build and insight into what you have to build.

Once drafted, the city reviews building plan submissions. Plan modifications are necessary if there are LOD discrepancies. These modifications will also require a resubmission of changes for city review.

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Increasing Los Angeles Property Value with Entitlements

Increasing the value of your property with entitlements

What are entitlements?

Los Angeles entitlements are land use permits that enable you to increase the value of your property by expanding the boundaries of what you can build (ex. increasing the amount of units allowed) and what you don’t have to build (ex. lessening the amount of required open space). These permits are necessary to the development process when seeking an optimal return on investment.

Los Angeles Entitlements infographic
Entitlements increase what you can build, which means higher financial returns

The City of Los Angeles offers entitlements as incentives for developers to build in targeted areas, build properties with more affordable housing units, and develop projects that are beneficial to a given neighborhood.

In this article, we will review the Los Angeles entitlements process, some of the different types of entitlements you can take advantage of, and why it’s crucial to complete permit applications correctly the first time around.  

The Los Angeles Entitlements Process: 

The entitlement process can look like a huge and daunting task and, unfortunately, it is! However, if done correctly, entitlements will add tangible value to your development. The entitlement application includes all required elements of project proposal and the site specific entitlement permits you are requesting.

Developers run the risk of “under-entitling” their land when they want to decrease project time, are unaware of certain incentives, or incorrectly assume the entitlements they want are already included in their by-right plans. This is why it is crucial to consult with a professional firm before submitting your proposal. 

The chart below gives an overview of what the entire entitlement process looks like for the City of Los Angeles and further emphasizes the importance of working with a professional.

Los Angeles Entitlement process chart
Overview of entitlement process in Los Angeles

Different Types of Entitlements: 

Conditional Use Permits (CUPs): 

Certain land uses require Conditional Use Permits (CUPS) , which are special conditions that ensure compatibility with surrounding properties. It is crucial to obtain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) if the owner wants to open businesses in most local districts. Often, the City and County require a discretionary permit with set conditions to regulate specific businesses within their jurisdictions. CUP is time–sensitive and marked with a termination date. However, only extensive research will reveal the status of a CUP.

Various types of businesses require special permits (ex. an ABC License CUP for the Sale of Dispensing of Alcoholic Beverages).

Zone Variance: 

Anything above a minor zoning regulation adjustment requires zone variance approval. Variance requests can include height increases, lesser amounts of open space, more density, and other adjustments that can increase buildable value . Although the city still employs rigorous assessment structures before approving variance requests, the permits, if granted, are highly worth the effort. Zone variance allows for more flexibility when developing a property.

Density Bonus: 

LA’s Density Bonus program allows for more residental units and less parking, which increases property value. A certain number of affordable and/or senior housing units determine qualification for this bonus.

Number of affordable units and the income tier that the affordable housing falls into determines density bonus size.

Typically, the density bonus offers up to three incentives from a menu of options including height increases, yard/setback modifications, increased number of stories, etc. The specific needs of the property determine the incentives used.

Properties zoned as TOC (Transit Oriented Community) qualify for incentives that function like the density bonus with even more perks.

Hint: properties/land in TOC zones are definitely worth looking into!

Density and TOC bonuses provide allowances within the land’s designated zone. However, they do not permit you to build outside of the what the land is zoned for. For example, a mixed-use property cannot be built on land zoned for multi family residential use. Further modifications ( i.e. zone variance) have to be requested. 

These are great examples of what types of entitlements are out there. However, you will want to check with a consultant to see what what works and is available for your specific property. 

Why Use Los Angeles Entitlements Professionals?

Obviously, the entitlement process is a complicated one. Developers who try and take on their own entitlements without guidance may cost themselves time and money if something goes wrong with their application, while developers who choose to forgo entitling their property all together miss out on crucial financial gains. 

In fact, even after the planning office approves property plans and issues a Letter of Determination, the approval remains conditional. Elements such as final parking count, affordable units, level of affordability, setbacks, etc. will need to be assessed again.  In some instances, these special conditions affect the sales price. It’s recommended that you work with a firm, like The Code Solution, to optimize property value and returns. 

Next Steps After Entitlements:

After the entitlements stage is complete, you might want to sell if you have multiple properties in the pipeline and are diversifying your options/return potentials. However, in order to optimize revenue potential, transitioning into the RTI or “ready to issue” stage of the development process is most recommended. A professional firm like The Code Solution will be able to give you guidance in regards to your specific circumstance.

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