Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica to Draw Up “Work Plan” to Deal with Increased Development
By Jason Islas
November 27, 2012 -- With more than two dozen Development Agreements (DA) in the pipeline, Santa Monica City staff will draw up a “work plan” to help put them through the lengthy approval process.
The plan, which staff said will be presented to the Council at the December 11 meeting, comes at a time when the number of DAs has skyrocketed from 12 between 1981 and 2007 to 25 currently being negotiated.
“It's describing that it would take us some time to get through that many development agreements,” said Planning Director David Martin.
Martin said staff is not recommending a moratorium on DAs in the city, he said no.
“It's not as though we are changing the process,” he said, adding that the December report will be about “clarifying the (DA) process.”
The December report “describes the number of applications we have pending and lays out for the council a plan by which we will put these projects through the system,” he said.
Some DAs can take years before they are approved, going through community meetings and to the Planning Commission, sometimes multiple times, before they even go before the Council.
The rise in DAs -- which allow developers to exceed zoning and land use standards in exchange for benefits to the community -- has drawn criticism from local neighborhood groups.
Diana Gordon, co-chair of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Sustainable City, decried the “tsunami” of development in the seaside city at a North of Montana Association meeting in September.
She also pointed to the Bergamot Transit Village -- a 767,000 square foot project at the old Papermate Site in the Pico Neighborhood that is currently on hold -- and the Miramar Redevelopment project, which would add up to 120 condos to the hotel's property in the Wilmont neighborhood.
The Council also recently approved a DA for the East Village project on the site of the Village Trailer park.
Six years in the making, the project will bring 377 residential units to mid-City Santa Monica.
Tuesday, the Council will look at concept plans for a proposed mixed-use project with 260 residential units and 2,999 square feet of commercial floor space at the old Grammy building site on the eastern edge of Pico Boulevard, a project which would also require a DA.
The reason for the rise in DAs is, at least in part, an administrative one.
“The DA explosion is partly because we are between zoning ordinances at the moment,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “When we adopted the Land Use Circulation Element (LUCE), staff suggested we use DAs temporarily to process incoming applications.”
The LUCE was adopted by the Council in 2010, but it has taken longer than expected to flesh out the zoning code, McKeown said.
“I've asked staff during public hearings several times over the past two years if perhaps their limited resources might suggest we put new applications on hold and focus our efforts instead on the zoning code and pending area plans, including Bergamot and Downtown,” he said.
“I think the December item about the development application process is an opportunity for the newly seated Council to consider my suggestion,” McKeown said.
The December 11 meeting will be the first for newly-elected Council members Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer.
“It's very clear that the number of development agreements that we've had to address in the past couple of years and will have to address in the near future puts a tremendous burden on staff's time,” said Winterer, who served on the Planning Commission.
“It's my belief that that time is better spent in completing some long-range planning, such at the Downtown Specific Plan and the Bergamot Area Plan,” he said. “I'm very uncomfortable with the fact that we've been approving projects via development agreements without those plans in place.”
Winterer, who has often asked for more community benefits from developers during his tenure on the Planning Commission, was endorsed by SMCLC in the November 6 Council election for his views on development along with Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon, who did not win a seat.
“Ted and Richard have demonstrated that they are highly intelligent, understand sound planning, listen to SM residents, and are not beholden to developers,” Gordon told The Lookout in September.
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