Residential redevelopment of commercially zoned land in California

From UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, December 2020

“This study is concerned primarily with infill, i.e., the redevelopment of commercial land in developed areas for residential use, as opposed to greenfield development.

“Land designated for commercial use is ubiquitous throughout California. Although the amount of commercial land per capita varies between the state’s metro areas and within them, commercial land is about as common in affluent areas as it is in poorer ones.

“On a per capita basis, commercially zoned land is most prevalent in areas farthest away from the major metro area cores. This signals opportunity through policy change to facilitate mixed-use, infill development not just in central locations, but in communities that may otherwise be resistant to planning for and approving greater housing densities.

“Roughly 41 percent of commercial zones in the state’s 50 largest cities currently prohibit residential development as determined by their base zoning designations. Of the commercial zones that do allow residential development, the entitlement process is inconsistent across cities, and in many cases, requires onerous approvals which limit what may actually be built.

“Allowing new homes and mixed-use projects to be built on these sites can serve as a catalyst for new economic growth while at the same time addressing California’s ongoing housing shortage. This form of redevelopment also advances infill development goals, bringing residents closer to jobs, amenities, and transit, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions from personal automobile use.

“State lawmakers have proposed new laws that would require cities to allow residential development on commercially zoned land. While these efforts did not move forward in 2020, the idea of allowing homebuilding in commercial areas has reemerged in the 2021-2022 legislative session with the introduction of Senate Bill 6 and Assembly Bill 115.”

Read or download the report here (PDF).

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