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City Council Will Consider Extension of Interim Zoning Ordinance

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 7, 2014 -- It’s been a decade since Santa Monica launched the process to update the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) that will guide future development in the bayside city, and there’s still plenty of work to be done.

The Planning Commission has been reviewing the Zoning Ordinance, which translates the LUCE goals into concrete planning standards, often page by page since December and is still months away from finishing

That means the City Council will likely vote Tuesday to once again extend the City’s Interim Zoning Ordinance -- adopted in 2011 as a place-holder until the update is completed -- at least until the end of the calendar year.

“It has taken a while,” said Planning Director David Martin, the City’s third planning director since the LUCE process began in 2004. (“Council Distributes Control Over General Plan,” October 28, 2004)

As of the end of March, the Commission had spent 10 meetings -- often hours in length -- debating the finer points of the Zoning Ordinance update, from medical marijuana dispensaries to parking. And they are expected to continue until June.

The Commission’s lengthy process is largely due to its “thorough review of the document,” Martin said.

In the meantime, everything else is on hold. “Since the planning commission has been focused on the Zoning Ordinance, it has prevented other projects from coming forward,” Martin said.

Santa Monica currently has roughly 35 development agreements (DAs) in the pipeline, including three major and controversial hotel projects -- all of which must go through the Planning Commission before going to the Council for approval.

DAs -- which are negotiated on a project-by-project basis for large (or Tier 3) projects – have increased, in part, because Interim Zoning Ordinance is still in place, Martin said.

Once the new standards are set, City staff expects the number of DAs to drop off.

“We expect that once we have a Tier 2 process, more projects will opt to go to Tier 2 and that would reduce the number of DAs,” he said.

Tier 2 projects, are not as large as Tier 3, and will undergo a more streamlined planning process than the DA process for Tier 3 projects. That means less time and money spent on planning for developers who opt to build Tier 2 projects.

The new Zoning Ordinance will have no effect on the three Downtown hotel projects proposed along Ocean Avenue that would include towers more than double the City’s current 84-foot height limit, since projects that large will still have to go through the DA process.

Planning Commissioners say spending six months reviewing the Ordinance is worth the time and energy.

“This document is about the future of Santa Monica,” said Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon.

The LUCE will govern development in Santa Monica for about the next quarter century when the City will once again have to update its general plan.

Planning Commissioner Gerda Newbold agreed that it’s not a task to be taken lightly.

“I think it’s taken a long time partly because it’s such a big job, and we’ve gotten a lot of public comment,” she said.

Martin said, “It will pay off in the end” because by the time it goes to Council, much of the details will have been hashed out.

Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day agreed. “It’s good that we’re paying very close attention,” he said.

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