Santa Monica Lookout
Revisioning Downtown Santa Monica
By Jorge Casuso
November 1, 2012 -- The vision for Downtown is coming into sharper focus, the Main Post office could soon be a thing of the past and the fee paid by developers who choose not to build parking on site is set to go up. Those are among the major developments taking place Downtown as the year comes closer to an end.
SPECIFIC PLAN GROWS MORE SPECIFIC
Imagine getting off the train in Downtown and strolling a Promenade where lively crowds stretch north to Wilshire Boulevard, then turning the corner and walking west along wider sidewalks to an ocean view promenade.
Or imagine heading east and finding yourself on a Lincoln Boulevard that looks and feels like Downtown and is just as pedestrian friendly.
These visions -- developed with input from the community and area stakeholders -- will help inform City officials as they draft a new Downtown Specific Plan that will serve as a blueprint to guide development and circulation Downtown over the next two decades.
“We’re pretty pleased with the involvement,” said Francie Stefan, the City’s strategic and transportation planning manager. “We’ve had great feedback and have a good sense of the goals.
“We want to celebrate that we are next to the ocean and have that beach quality,” Stefan added. “The themes are great because they are intuitive, but putting words to them really helps.”
More than 110 community members -- including Downtown residents, business owners, property owners and managers, bicyclists and citizens who frequent the area -- attended the most recent public workshop July 11 at the Civic Center.
The vision that emerged from the community workshop -- where attendees rolled up their sleeves, pored over maps and jotted down ideas -- is becoming more and more concrete. A menu of central planning ideas has emerged that include the following items presented at a Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM) meeting on August 14.
• Making it easy to get from the Expo Station to the heart of Downtown, beach, and Civic Center
• Making Downtown a “delightful” place to walk and bike
• Turning Ocean Avenue into a “great ocean view promenade, better
connected to Palisades Park”
• Guiding investment so that Lincoln Boulevard “looks, feels, and acts like part of the Downtown”
• Enlivening the north end of the Promenade
• Providing more public gathering spaces with landscaping
• Developing buildings that “serve the community’s needs and enliven the streets and public spaces”
“There was significant agreement among all groups that continuing to promote walkability, wayfinding, and connections to the future Expo Station was a priority,” City staff wrote in a report of the meeting.
Attendees also agreed that “calming vehicle movement would improve the experience of walking and biking in Downtown, which many felt can be a stressful or intense experience,” staff said.
Planning officials hope to have a draft of the Downtown Specific Plan shortly after the beginning of the New Year,” Stefan said. The draft, she added, will provide a “basic framework and concepts so the public can give feedback.
“We look forward to pulling all the pieces together into a plan and getting into deep discussions with Downtown stakeholders and the broader community through workshops,” Stefan said. “We will seek input through every step of the process.”
Once the input has been gathered, City staff will make revisions to the draft and the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before it goes to the Planning Commission and City Council for further public deliberations later next year.
RETURN TO SENDER
Downtown Santa Monica will lose one of its iconic institutions when the 74-year-old Main Post Office at 5th Street and Arizona Avenue is put on the selling block by the cash-strapped federal agency next year.
More than 100 local residents sent comments protesting the decision, announced in August, that the post office would be shut down and the operations moved from the New Deal-era building to the facility on Seventh Street and Olympic Boulevard.
Opponents argued that the move would be a hardship for Downtown workers and residents, particularly seniors, who routinely walk to the elegant building that opened amidst much fanfare in 1938 during the Great Depression.
But Postal Service officials said the decision to put 12 California post offices up for sale, including those in Venice and Santa Monica, was a drastic but necessary measure in order to continue to pay salaries. The U.S. Postal Service has posted a year-to-date net loss of $11.6 billion, compared to $5.7 billion for the same period last year, agency officials said.
A campaign led by the Santa Monica Conservancy to preserve the building was aided when the City’s Landmarks Commission said it was preparing to designate the New Deal building a landmark as soon as it passed from the hands of the federal government.
But Conservancy officials are worried the building could be “at risk.” The National Trust for Historic Preservation, “is so concerned about the failure of the Postal Service to provide adequate protections,” Conservancy officials wrote in an email blast, “that it has named the Historic Post Offices to its 2012 list of the Nation’s Most Endangered Historic Places.”
DEVELOPER PARKING FEES TO RISE
Downtown developers who choose not to build on-site parking will soon see “in lieu fees” paid to the City rise to at least $20,000 per space, the first adjustment since the program was instituted in 1986.
Under the current structure, which is set to expire on June 30, 2016, developers pay $1.50 for every square foot of development. The increase will double the revenues the City collects to build new public parking or lease underutilized private parking spaces.
The money also could be used to build parking in new private developments, provide incentives for employees to park in peripheral lots and implement wayfinding and access enhancements. The measures are part of “shared parking” and “park once” initiatives that are key components of the new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
“We need to be careful when we set the fee,” Mayor Richard Bloom cautioned during a City Council study session September 11. “If we kill the goose that lays the golden egg by setting the fees too high, that would be counterproductive.”
Downtown stakeholders have warned that charging more than $20,000 to $30,000 per parking space would discourage developers from participating in the program.
The cost of building a parking space above ground is between $32,000 and $34,000, while underground parking could cost as much as $54,000 per space, according to City staff.
The City currently collects approximately $600,000 annually from 44 parcels, according to staff. That amount could double under the revised pricing plan to $1,152,000 a year, generating a total of $36.1 million over the next 30 years.
Still to be established is the formula that would determine the percentage of spaces a developer could pay in the form of in-lieu fees.
City staff is recommending that developers in the Downtown core -- the area bounded by Second and Fourth courts and Broadway and Wilshire Boulevard -- continue to have the option to pay up to 100 percent of required parking through in-lieu fees.
Developers in other parts of newly expanded Downtown -- bounded by Ocean Avenue, Lincoln Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard and the Santa Monica Freeway -- would “be allowed to satisfy no more than 40 percent of required parking through the in-lieu fee, unless otherwise approved by discretionary review,” according to staff’s recommendation.
New parking standards would be implemented as part of the Downtown Specific Plan, but until then, current parking standards would apply. Staff will return to the council with an ordinance that includes the new fee amount later this year.
|copyrightCopyright 1999-2012 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.|