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Planning Commission Moves Ahead on Major Santa Monica Downtown Development

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

June 4, 2015 -- If the layered, zig-zag-shaped The Plaza at Santa Monica ever gets built at the epicenter of the City's downtown core, it's conceivable its future residents could work, dine, shop, exercise outdoors -- even ice skate and visit a children's museum -- without ever leaving home.

It’s also conceivable, a swell of community opposition argues, that the proposed project on prime City-owned land would set a dangerous precedent for towering, dense development in an already congested Downtown.

Image of downtown Santa Monica proposed new development "The Plaza"

Rendering for The Plaza at Santa Monica (Courtesy of Metropolitan Pacific Capital and OMA)

In the first “float up” session for The Plaza at Santa Monica, the City Planning Commission on Wednesday discussed conceptual plans for the project with City staff and John Warfel of developer Metropolitan Pacific Capital (MPC).

Afterward, commissioners voted 4 to 1 to recommend that the City Council direct staff to enter into negotiations with MPC on a development agreement.

But commissioners also asked staff to work with MPC and the project's designers to increase the amount of affordable housing, decrease office space, reassess the parking in terms of the overall parking strategy for Downtown and look at using revenue generated from ground floor leases to fund future park development.

Like dominos stacked at angles, with each block containing a different use and a 195-room hotel occupying the top, the 148-foot-tall The Plaza at Santa Monica would take up nearly two blocks of City owned property on Arizona between 4th and 5th streets.

Consisting of nine parcels strung together between 2007 and 2010 at a reported cost of $100 million, the property today consists mostly of parking space, a Chase Bank and a Bank of America, some commercial buildings and a few stores.

Conceptual plans for The Plaza, which was first proposed in 2013, are the end product of a rigorous two-year community planning process that has included at least three community workshops, according to City staff. The result is an estimated $300 million to $400 million proposed development that aims to be everything to everybody.

Metropolitan Pacific Capital is planning a 12-story, mixed use project with about 195 hotel rooms, 206,800 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet of retail space and 48 affordable residential units. The proposed project also includes 12,000 square feet of retail space, 51,000 square feet of open public space and 1,143 parking spaces with a four-level below-ground parking garage.

Affordable units would be managed by nonprofit Community Corporation of Santa Monica, with rents set at 50 percent of household incomes.

Commissioner Richard McKinnon voted against the project late Wednesday night, saying he wants an 84-foot height limit.

 “This is a public-private partnership. Public-private partnerships are very difficult to get right,” said McKinnon. “I would say 99 percent of the time the public gets the raw end of the deal.”

McKinnon called The Plaza at Santa Monica's design by architectural firm OMA “quite brilliant in the way it's done.”

 “It's just not the building for this site, given its height and its volume, so for that reason, should the project come up for a vote tonight or any other night, I will be voting no.”  

McKinnon predicted The Plaza will significantly change the dynamics of the City and “will lead this City to higher building rights throughout the City.”

Commissioners also heard from more than 40 speakers at a public hearing before the vote, including members of neighborhood groups and other residents who said The Plaza -- at 12 stories and 420,000 square feet in total size -- is too tall and too big.

Several said they want the project scraped and a park built on the 2.5-acre site.

The project is the latest lightning rod for several neighborhood associations that support the City's traditional 84-foot height limit.

Opponents include Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition and Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, both of which urged their members and residents on their websites to attend Wednesday's hearing.

Residocracy, a citywide residents' association which helped rally wide community opposition against the failed 375,000-square-foot Hines project on 26th Street, has an e-petition on its website to kill The Plaza at Santa Monica.

The Wilmont Board “categorically opposes the project as proposed” and plans to introduce a resolution at its annual meeting on Saturday, June 20, at Reed Community Park, 1133 7th Street, from noon to 3 p.m., its website said.

 “What bothers me most is the City is setting an example, a precedent,” Laurence Eubank, Wilmont Board chairman, told the Planning Commission. “They are obliterating this 84-foot limit we've lived with for, what, a generation.”

But several local hotel employees, union organizers, downtown business owners and residents spoke in favor of the project, saying The Plaza at Santa Monica will generate millions in tax revenue and revitalize a traditionally underused area of the beach city's Downtown.

 One resident said the bayside city doesn’t need a park in the area. If he needs to take his son to the park, he said, he just goes to the beach. Another resident noted that Santa Monica already has more than 20 parks.

“To me, this is the best project you're going to get,” said another resident, who owns a small business near downtown.

Local peace activist Jerry Rubin praised the public planning workshops that helped shape The Plaza at Santa Monica.

 “What I see up there is just about all the community objectives that everybody had asked for – virtually everything,” said Rubin, who has made numerous runs for City Council. “This is an economic benefit to Santa Monica, an architectural design benefit, an affordable housing benefit, a jobs benefit, a high-tech office benefit and a visitor and resident benefit.”


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