Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica Planning Commission to Vet Bergamot Transit Village Again
By Jason Islas
September 11, 2013 -- After two years of relative quiet from Texas-based developer Hines about plans to build a 767,000 square-foot mixed-use project in the heart of Santa Monica's Bergamot neighborhood, it will go before the Planning Commission again Wednesday.
And the project, which would replace the abandoned Papermate factory directly across from the future site of the future Expo Light Rail, still has a long way to go before its up to community standards, according to the 50-page staff report.
“This project is one of the most significant land use decisions the City will make in the Bergamot Transit Village District,” staff said.
It's significant, staff said, not only because the five building complex with 374,423 square feet of creative office space would span roughly seven acres of land in Santa Monica's former industrial quarter.
The development, at the heart of 142 acres City planners hope to remake as a creative arts district and residential neighborhood, will also be one of the first things people see when they disembark at Expo's Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street station, according to staff.
While staff's report cited several major issues with the project as proposed -- and stopped short of recommending the Commission pass the project on to Council for approval -- staff did note that the project had improved since it went before the Council in August 2011.
“The applicant has responded to the direction given from the float-up discussions and tremendous progress has been made in terms of responding to the urban form vision of the draft Area Plan, improving the garage access, and including more residential uses in the project,” staff said.
Even so, the staff report points out key areas where City officials and Hines have not reached an agreement.
For starters, City planners want more affordable housing from Hines, who plans to build 471 apartments and 27 artist studio live/work spaces.
Hines said it would set aside 25 of those units for extremely low income families and another 50 as workforce housing (defined as affordable to households that make 180 percent of the area median income or AMI).
City staff wants the 25 extremely low income units in addition to 10 low income units, 20 moderate income units and another 20 workforce units, but at a cheaper rate than Hines is proposing.
Staff's other concerns were with Hines' proposed traffic mitigation program, the developer suggested environmentally strategy and some of the size and massing proposed in the design, all of which staff said need tweaking to bring it in line with standards set forth in the Bergamot Area Plan Council is set to adopt.
“These issues were based on the principles for creating a transit village that were endorsed by the City Council at the time, while the Bergamot Area Plan process was just commencing,” staff said, referring to the 2011 Council meeting.
The project that goes before the Commission Wednesday will be the third iteration of the Transit Village.
In the most recent iteration, Hines adjusted the mix of residential to commercial space after residents grew concerned that too much commercial space would generate significant amounts of traffic. (“Epic EIR Sets Santa Monica Record,” May 16, 2012)
Wednesday night only marks the beginning of a renewed bid by Hines to move the project forward and there is little doubt that there is a while to go before the project makes it to the final rounds.
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