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|Council Sends B&B Application Back to Planning Commission|
By Jonathan Friedman
April 15, 2010 --The City Council on Tuesday refused to grant a conditional use permit (CUP) for an Ocean Park home that would have made it Santa Monica’s first bed and breakfast. The Council voted to send the application back to the Planning Commission, which had approved the CUP, for further consideration.
Several Council members said the landmark-designated home on Ocean Avenue known as The Cottage would not be operating as a traditional bed and breakfast under the conditions established by the Planning Commission’s CUP because, among other issues, it would not have an on-site manager.
“What the applicant in this case is asking for is not a bed and breakfast in the sense that bed and breakfasts have been commonly accepted,” Council member Kevin McKeown said. “What they are asking for is a part-time, intermittent short-term rental. And I find that particular configuration unacceptable.”
McKeown wanted the home to have an on-site resident managing the property. Other Council members proposed alternative ideas for management and security of the property. The Planning Commission will consider the various options when it attempts to come up with conditions for a new CUP. Its decision can be appealed to the City Council.
The item was before the City Council on Tuesday because the Planning Commission’s 4-3 decision to allow a bed and breakfast operation for 182 days per year had been appealed by Scott Spell, a resident who lives near The Cottage. He said the home would not be operating as a bed and breakfast, but rather as a “vacation party house.” Calling it a bed and breakfast, Spell said, was an “end run” around the City’s ban on short-term rentals.
“What we have is a very clever, very creative professional real estate developer who found a way to circumvent this public policy,” Spell said.
The Cottage is owned by Westwood residents John and Donna Heidt. They use the property as a second home and they had been renting it out to people for short-term leases. They applied for the CUP once a code enforcement officer told them what they were doing was not allowed in Santa Monica and that a CUP would be needed for a bed and breakfast.
John Heidt, who restored The Cottage, and has further renovations planned, told neighbors during a community meeting that he needed to operate the bed and breakfast to make up for the cost of the restoration. Council member Gleam Davis, who along with Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor was in the Council minority supporting the CUP application, favored this concept.
“There’s an economic reality here that if we do want to preserve our landmarks in our community, not everyone is independently wealthy like some people are and therefore able to, for the sake of the landmark itself or because they want to live there full time, restore landmarks,” Davis said.
But former Mayor Michael Feinstein, who lives near The Cottage, said granting the CUP would set a “horrible precedent.” He said people would start buying residential landmarks and claim they needed to be converted to commercial operations because of economic hardship. He said that would lead to the destruction of residential neighborhoods.
“If (real estate development attorney) Chris Harding came in here with a developer and wanted to upzone a property, we’d throw him out,” Feinstein said. “And somehow because this is a landmark, we’re saying that it’s OK. We’re getting hustled, folks.” Landmarks Commissioner Nina Fresco took a different view, saying this was a good opportunity to allow landmarks to thrive in Santa Monica.
“Special dispensations for landmarks should make it not just bearable, but desirable, to own a landmark and should encourage creative new ways to adapt them so they continue as vibrant beacons in our local landscape,” she said.
John Heidt declined an interview following the meeting. When asked for his opinion about the Council’s decision, he said, “I’ll have to sleep on it.”
Several council members said during the meeting that the City’s bed and breakfast definition should be re-examined, since it is not specific. It does not require that breakfast be served or that there be any on-site management.
“What the applicant in this case is asking for is not a bed and breakfast in the sense that bed and breakfasts have been commonly accepted,
they are asking for is a part-time, intermittent short-term rental. And
I find that particular configuration unacceptable.”
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