Best Practice Category:
A Specific Plan is a tool for the “systematic implementation of the General Plan” for a particular area within a City. It effectively establishes a link between implementing the policies of the general plan and attributes of the individual development proposals in a defined area. 1 A specific plan may be as general as setting forth broad policy concepts, or as detailed as providing direction to every facet of development from the type, location, intensity, and design standards of uses to the financing, design and capacity of infrastructure. All specific plans, whether prepared by a general law city or county, must comply with Sections 65450 - 65457 of the California Government Code. These sections describe the legal and statutory requirements for a Specific Plan in the State of California. As mandated by state law, a specific plan must include text and diagrams that specify all of the following in detail:
- The distribution, location, and extent of the uses of land within the Plan area.
- Details for major components of public and private transportation, sewage, water, drainage, solid waste disposal, energy, and other essential facilities proposed to be located within the area covered by the plan and needed to support the land uses described in the plan.
- Standards and criteria by which development will proceed, and standards for the conservation, development, and utilization of natural resources, where applicable.
- A program of implementation measures including regulations, programs, public works projects, and financing measures necessary to carry out the Plan.
- A statement of the relationship of the specific plan to the general plan.
Specific Plans can be an effective planning tool to foster transit-supportive planning, since they can provide a detailed vision, policies, and regulations for areas around transit stations, at a finer grain than the General Plan permits. Setting the residential densities and non-residential intensities at or above the recommended minimums of 12 units per acre and 0.75 FAR that are stated in the LEED-ND rating system prerequisites is essential for both generating sufficient transit ridership and providing a level of pedestrian activity needed to support retail. 2
A Specific Plan should recognize that distinct areas around a transit facilities (as categorized by use, character, density, pedestrian and bicycle connections, parking, urban design or another unifying characteristic) need to be addressed and regulated differently. The areas surrounding a station must be carefully analyzed to answer two key questions: How does the area currently function? How could it change in response to planned improvements? The ability to establish design guidelines through a Specific Plan is also beneficial to transit-supportive places, to ensure quality development that enhances the character of a transit district, downtown area, and the larger community. This tool can also incorporate many of the other specific implementation tools in this Toolkit.
- Standards for higher quality development near transit stations.
- Improved access to transit
- Streetscape and other infrastructure improvements near transit
The El Monte Gateway Specific Plan establishes a vibrant, mixed-used urban activity center for the City of El Monte. The City sought to capitalize on recent development interest in the downtown core area, including the existing commercial core. The Gateway Specific Plan provides the City’s official land use policy and vision for the project area. Through the establishment of comprehensive land use regulations and design guidance, the Specific Plan will ensure future private development projects fulfill the spirit and intent of the Specific Plan and that future expansion of public transit uses within the Specific Plan are consistent with comprehensive community development goals. The primary sub-district allows for 60 dwelling units per acre, and a maximum FAR of 2.70 (intended to allow for substantial retail, office, hotel, and entertainment uses). Key lessons learned from the transit village efforts in El Monte (that can be applied to other cities) are:
- City involvement can make the difference in implementing complex joint developments.
- Consider pursuing feasibility studies, even in complex situations.
- Up-front community outreach is critical. Engaging the community at the start of the process was a key to ensuring that the plan has lasting public support.
Key circumstances made bus transit-oriented development possible at El Monte Transit Center.
- Development around major bus stations works in places that already act as hubs for a larger bus network.
- Intermodal connections are extremely important for both bus and rail hubs.
- Commit funding to infrastructure improvements that guarantee the long-term stability of a bus route, such as dedicated lanes and rights-of-way.
To enable the creation of a "vibrant and mixed-use transit village" around the Gold Line station on Duarte Road, the City of Duarte sought and received a grant from Metro to complete a Specific Plan and EIR. The objectives were to:
- Guide the type and character of future development in the area,
- Encourage Transit Oriented Design (“TOD”),
- Ensure that any new land uses are compatible with the surrounding area,
- Protect the value of existing properties in the Specific Plan area,
- Create incentives for owners of property in the Specific Plan area to voluntarily realize greater value through the conversion of their properties to approved TOD uses, and
- Realize the economic stimulus and community enhancements the Duarte Station TOD will provide.
This Specific Plan is unusual in that it addressed a very small area (less than 20 acres) and the land slated for future development is currently zoned for manufacturing. Moreover, the City lacks a traditional downtown, but the area’s zoning now allows up to 475 new residences, a hotel, up to 400,000 square feet of office and 12,000 square feet of retail, with the hope that this new, mixed-use development will anchor a nascent center of activity in the heart of the City.
See more Section 2+4.
The Bergamot Area Plan, adopted in 2013, is a focused planning effort called for in Santa Monica’s 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element intended to give voice to community preferences for land uses, circulation networks, infrastructure, parking strategies, open space, the arts, and design of buildings in the mixed-use, transit-oriented Bergamot area. The Bergamot Area Plan was initiated to help transition 142.5 acres of former industrial land into a walkable, sustainable, and innovative complete neighborhood. The key planning challenge was to balance the inevitable pressures of the market to develop the most profitable uses against the community’s expressed desire to retain the area’s low key character and its role as a place that fosters art and creativity. The Plan contains several critical components that will facilitate appropriate development around transit:
- Growth Projections. One of the important contributions of the Area Plan was to complete a buildout analysis for the anticipated residential units and commercial square footage that would be constructed within the Plan area within a specified timeframe. This ultimate buildout allows the city to plan for (and assess fees related to) new infrastructure investments.
- Tier Strategy. Based on public and stakeholder input, the Plan sets forth a clear relationship between discretionary increases in height and the provision of community benefits in projects. Desired benefits are specifically identified, and tied to bonus amounts of FAR or dwelling units.
- Congestion Management. The Plan sets up processes for both new and existing developments to participate in TDM programs through the creation of a Transportation Management Agency (TMA). The Plan includes almost 30 Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies, in the service of the ‘no net new trips’ goal.
- Urban Sustainability. Multitude of requirements for green building strategies, incentives for adaptive re-use and conservation, policies for heat island reduction, and mandatory alternative energy production (primarily solar) for certain projects.
- Conceptual Master Plans. Through various community charrettes and iterative design processes, the Plan developed several site concept options for the reconfiguration of the station area, including factors such as improvements to open space and site amenities, parking provided for existing and new uses, and access to/from the light rail station.
The City of Cerritos developed a Transit Oriented District Plan to provide direction for future public investments, private development, and community action surrounding a potential future rail station in the post redevelopment era. Cerritos is largely a suburban community with significant big box retail (Los Cerritos Center), but this study illustrates how even a low-intensity place can accommodate transit-oriented development. The study identified the optimum location for a transit station within the project area, and developed a comprehensive conceptual master plan for the adjacent land uses which included:
- Three design alternatives: Urban Village, Los Cerritos Esplanade, and Entertainment/Recreational
- Vision for the necessary physical linkages between the subject area and the Los Cerritos Center and Cerritos Auto Square, forming a larger transit-centered commercial district
- Decision to provide a large central gathering space and a landscaped multi-use path
- Conducted feasibility studies for new prototype projects
- Identified various potential funding sources for the project.
Culver City is developing a 5.52 acre Transit Oriented Development to serve the existing light rail station at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and National Boulevard. The key to the eventual success of this area is due mostly to the active and prolonged interest that the City took in all stages of the process:
- Secured agreement from State Department of Finance to use funds from the former RDA
- Established a Communities Facilities District to fund necessary infrastructure improvements (CFD assesses a proportional special tax on all property owners in the district to take advantage of below market municipal bond financing)
- Executed a lease agreement with Metro to provide subterranean parking and related development on the MTA right of way
- Executed a MoU with the City of Los Angeles to harmonize zoning and development requirements
- Expended $3.1 million to improve the light rail station
- Vetted and selected a preferred master developer (and corresponding conceptual plan)
To make this transit-supportive district a success, the City was extremely hands on, shepherding the development along through various barriers and regulatory impediments. Instead of simply laying out the parameters of the district and outsourcing the design and implementation to the private sector, the City guided all aspects of the District’s development. The proposed project, currently in the conceptual design phase, will include residential, office, retail, restaurants, a hotel, and community open space.
- Central Petaluma (CA) Specific Plan . Good station area plan with development and design guidelines, thoroughfare standards, and historic conservation.
- West Carson Transit Oriented District Specific Plan . LA County Department of Regional Planning is currently preparing the TOD Specific Plan for the area around the Carson Metro Bus Station, a major transit station situated along the 110 Freeway. It will contain zoning and land use standards, a mobility strategy, an economic development strategy, a capital improvement plan, and urban design guidelines.
1 Office of Planning and Research. (2001). “The Planner’s Guide to Specific Plans.” Retrieved from https://www.opr.ca.gov/docs/specific_plans.pdf
2 USGBC. (2015). “LEED-ND Credits and Points.” Retrieved from http://www.usgbc.org/articles/leed-nd-credits-and-points