Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica’s Bergamot Draft Plan Heads to City Council
By Jason Islas
February 25, 2013 -- Despite concerns it would generate more traffic and require excessive oversight, the Bergamot Area Plan received a second review by the Santa Monica Planning Commission last week before heading to the City Council.
The decision capped eight hours of discussions over the “ambitious” 230-page draft plan that sets height limits, parking and open space requirements and a number of other standards for developers hoping to build near the first westbound stop on the proposed Expo Light Rail line.
To help regulate traffic concerns, the Plan proposes the establishment of a Transportation Management Association (TMA) made up of stakeholders in the neighborhood.
Although the commission didn't take an official vote Wednesday, staff took the tenor of the discussion to mean the commission thought the draft plan -- which would turn the former industrial area into an active arts district -- was ready to move on to the next round.
“I think the discussion has been positive enough and that the direction seems clear enough, we think we can keep going,” said Francie Stefan, strategic and transportation planning manager.
But the Planning Commission's approval of the plan carried some caveats.
The Commission expressed concern about enforcing the many demands placed on developers in the future arts district.
“It's a highly ambitious plan and I love how ambitious it is,” said Commissioner Amy Anderson. But she added that the plan is “highly interventionist,” saying “the management and long-term oversight of this plan makes me nervous.
“It's going to take a lot of on-going presence of the City, I guess,” she said.
Stefan pointed out that any large developments would require Development Agreements (DAs), which have built-in monitoring processes.
Still, with a proposed net gain of some 5,000 parking spaces in the neighborhood, the commission seemed concerned that the Plan might end up generating more traffic if not implemented correctly.
“If we're not very, very careful, there may be a period where there are new peak-period trips,” said Chair Gerda Newbold, reiterating what traffic consultant Jeff Tumlin had told the Commission during the previous meeting.
Senior Strategic Planner Peter James said that there could be a brief period when traffic might increase.
“There is this uncomfortable period where all these things are happening,” he said. “The shared parking is coming online, the pricing is working out, the train comes in, the housing is going in... And people aren't totally used to it.”
“And then the 'Flip' happens,” he said. “It's when people start to recognize that biking is a preferred mode, that the train can get you to places in just the same amount of time as driving and it's less of a headache.”
But he couldn't say for certain when the 'Flip' would happen.
Planning Commissioner and vocal bike advocate Richard McKinnon said the plan didn't go far enough to get people out of their cars and onto bikes or the train, adding that the plan should prioritize cars less.
“Prioritization of everything but the car; that's going to do it,” he said.
The commission repeated some of its concerns from the previous meeting, as well, including the need for more open space and the desire to have developers help pay for it.
The idea of creating a pool for developers to pay in to for reinvigorating or expanding nearby parks resonated with the commission.
Commissioner Jim Ries suggested concentrating more of the heavier developments in the area immediately surrounding the train station, potentially leaving more space for parks in the residential areas.
“The Hines project would be much more palatable if they were buying up land and building a park closer to the residential,” Ries said, referring to the proposed large mixed-use residential development at the former Papermate site that has been stalled.
The Hines project's last iteration was 767,000 square feet, 220,200 square feet of which would be dedicated to residential uses.
And some commissioners weren't entirely comfortable with the way the plan addressed workforce housing.
Newbold said it was “a great plan,” but added, “I think we promised the community that this would have workforce housing and that we wouldn't increase traffic.
“I don't feel as though we've quite figured that out,” she said.
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