Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica to Discuss Hotly-Debated Downtown Plan Thursday
By Jason Islas
October 2, 2013 -- Residents will get a chance Thursday to tell City officials what questions they want answered as part of a State-mandated environmental study of Santa Monica's hotly-debated Downtown Specific Plan (DSP).
In the east wing of the Civic Center at 6:30 p.m., the now year-long process of drafting and vetting the document that will dictate the height limits, maximum building densities and even sidewalk widths in the half square mile of Santa Monica's “living room” will enter its next phase.
“Thursday is a chance for staff to take direct input from the public about their concerns regarding environmental impacts of the proposed DSP,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown told The Lookout.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires City staff to look at the potential impacts the new plan might have on air quality, traffic, climate change and even light and shadow in the Downtown.
“I hope it sheds more light and less heat than the Miramar EIR scoping meeting back in May,” McKeown said.
When City Hall held a community meeting to ask residents what they wanted studied in the EIR for the proposed $250 million renovation of the Miramar Hotel in Downtown Santa Monica, the meeting nearly dissolved into chaos. ("Santa Monicans Get Rowdy at Miramar Redevelopment Meeting," May 17)
Computer mogul Michael Dell, who is part owner of the hotel, has proposed replacing two buildings on the Miramar's four-acre campus with three new ones. One of the proposed buildings would be more than 300 feet tall and include as many as 120 luxury condominiums.
The uproar at the May meeting was a microcosm of the controversy facing the Downtown Specific Plan since the hotel sits on one of eight locations -- called opportunity sites -- in the Downtown where developers could propose taller and denser than would be allowed in the rest of the area in exchange for extra community benefits.
However, some residents balked at the idea that anything should be built in Santa Monica that was taller than the current 84-foot height limit.
In response to rising tensions, Santa Monica's City Council agreed that City planners should not study height limits in the Downtown Specific Plan that supersede Santa Monica's current limits, rejecting staff's recommendation that the Plan's EIR allow for the possibility of buildings up to 12 stories tall at the sites. ("Santa Monica Won't Study Additional Height in Downtown Plan Environmental Review," August 14)
While the Council's decision did not officially set the new height limits for the Downtown, CEQA precludes the possibility of anything not studied in the EIR from being part of the final Plan.
Thursday's meeting, while it will inform the EIR parameters, will not officially determine the City's policies for the future of Downtown development.
“This is neither a Planning Commission nor City Council meeting, so no policy decisions will be made,” McKeown said.
While he said he isn't sure exactly what the format of Thursday's meeting will be, McKeown did say that the City's process “does require that everyone have a chance to be heard and have their questions
More information about Thursday's meeting and the Downtown Specific Plan in general are available on the City's website.
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