By Jorge Casuso
September 21, 2012 -- Santa Monica took a big step in its continuing effort to bring more housing Downtown when twin projects broke ground near the eastern edge of the beachside city's commercial center.
Combined, the two neighboring projects at 702 Arizona Avenue and 1317 Seventh Street will add 107 apartment units above 10,500 feet of ground-floor retail and restaurant space. The proposed project features terraces and landscaped public and private spaces.
|Rendering of residential project at 1317 Seventh Street. (Courtesy of David Forbes Hibbert, AIA)
The projects -- just northeast of the main Library and four blocks from the Promenade -- will replace a two and three-story office building and two surface parking lots.
"The City Council has indicated that there is a real need for housing," said Steve Fifield, president and CEO of FRC Realty, Inc, which is developing the project. "These vacant lots are not attractive.
"There's still a demand for housing," Fifield said. "The supply that's coming is not even going to dent the demand."
The project is the first to be built under an April 2011 interim ordinance that requires Downtown projects taller than 32 feet to be negotiated under a Development Agreement (DA), which includes community benefits, rather receiving administrative approval.
Among the community benefits for the two projects approved by the City Council last October is "a project design that incorporates an enhanced walkway and courtyard area for public access and passive use," according to City staff.
Other benefits are "an enhanced Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan, a monetary contribution towards transit infrastructure in the Downtown area and a shared parking program," staff said.
Both buildings will have on-site tenant bike parking, and about ten percent of the parking spaces will be set aside for future installation of electric vehicle charging conduits, according to staff.
Architect David Forbes Hibbert, who designed both projects and has been a major architect in the city for more than 30 years, warns that requiring too many community benefits could discourage developers from building much-needed housing.
"There's only so much to give," he said.
Fifield, who has built major projects in Los Angeles and Chicago, predicts that building housing Downtown, along with the completion of the Expo Light Rail line in 2016, will help alleviate the parking crunch.
"With the light rail, the buses, and people able to live Downtown, you'll see parking demand level off," he said.
The City Council is currently crafting a Downtown Specific plan that will guide development and circulation in Santa Monica's commercial core.
The plan is likely to mirror some of the goals set forth in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) approved in 2010 that encourages mixed-use buildings as part of changing the urban landscape of Santa Monica.
Housing development Downtown was largely spurred by a 1996 ordinance that provided incentives to build housing in an effort to turn the shopping district into a real neighborhood.
The policy was a major success, and developers began lining 5th, 6th and 7th streets with new apartment buildings.
The two newest properties will satisfy affordable housing requirements by adding “very-low income” units on site, which City officials are encouraging, instead of paying an “in-lieu” fee.
"It's nice to get to the end of the process and still feel good about it," Hibbert said.