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Santa Monicans Divided About Height, Support Bergamot Arts District Development, Survey Shows

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 28, 2014 -- Santa Monicans are divided over the future of development in the bayside city, according to the results of a City-commissioned survey released Thursday.

The survey, commissioned by the City Council last fall to better gauge public opinion about major controversial pending developments, found that of the 500 households that participated, at least a third  opposed allowing three hotels in Downtown Santa Monica to build taller than the city's current 84-foot height limit.

But the survey also found that a majority of those households supported developing the Bergamot Area -- the bayside city's former industrial corridor and location of the controversial Bergamot Transit Village development  -- into a mixed-use creative district.

“Nearly three-quarters of the respondents (71.1%) indicated they support the height limits [of about six or seven stories] in the Downtown Specific Plan Framework,” according to a report prepared by Godbe Research, which conducted the survey by phone between January 11 and January 24.

“Although, only two in five respondents support allowing three potential hotel projects to exceed the height limit,” the report said.

According to the report, 24 percent of the households surveyed “strongly support” the heights of the proposed hotels, which range from 195 feet to more than 300 feet while 36 percent “strongly oppose” those plans.

With the three projects scheduled to come before the City Council for approval over the course of the next year, it is unclear how the survey results will affect the Council's decisions.

About 46 percent said, “New buildings in Downtown Santa Monica should be kept as low as possible,” even it meant less open space, compared to about 36 percent who wanted “taller, thinner and architecturally distinct” development.

The majority of residents -- 58 percent -- who were asked said, “The skyline of downtown Santa Monica already has too many tall buildings,” the report said.

Residents were also asked about the city's future Bergamot Area Plan, adopted by the City Council last September. (“Santa Monica City Council Adopts Bergamot Area Plan,” September 12, 2013)

“The Plan fosters the creation of a walkable, urban art- and transit-oriented neighborhood that allows a mix of housing and creative uses, supported by restaurants and retail to serve people in the area,” the script reads.

“Given this information, do you support or oppose projects that facilitate the implementation of the Plan?” residents were asked.

About half said they would “strongly support” and another 25 percent said the “somewhat support” such projects.

One such project, the 765,000 square foot mixed-use Bergamot Transit Village proposed for the abandoned Papermate factory at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard, became a flashpoint in the community after it was approved by the City Council on February 11.

The city's seven neighborhood groups, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) -- at the urging of its co-founder, former mayor Denny Zane -- and Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, have made the project the target of a referendum drive in order to overturn the Council's decision. (“SMRR, Neighborhood Groups Rally for Anti-Development Referendum,” February 14)

Only about 13 percent of the residents interviewed “strongly oppose” development in the Bergamot Area.

City officials declined Thursday to comment on the results of the survey, which cost about $32,000, saying only that a study session will be held with the City Council on March 18 to determine future steps.

The full 637-page report can be downloaded from the City's website.

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