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Santa Monica Downtown Plan Will “Open Floodgates” to Massive Development, Group Contends

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

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 8, 2016 -- The new draft plan for downtown development over the next 20 years will open the “floodgates” to massive development, clear the way for mega-projects and blot out the last of the city’s beach town charm, one of Santa Monica’s two major slow-growth organizations said Monday.

Four years in the making and counting, the draft Downtown Community Plan (formerly the Downtown Specific Plan) went before the City Planning Commission last Thursday for more work and public comment but emerged with limited consensus and no final vote.

It will return in May for a vote by commissioners and is expected to go before the City Council this summer for final action.

But the Santa Monica Coalition for A Livable City (SMCLC) left the session with harsh criticism and warnings for its members.

“It is a recipe for a dense, congested, overbuilt downtown with ever worsening gridlock and parking,” SMCLC leader Diana Gordon said of the current draft in the group’s newsletter. “It is exactly what residents have said they didn't want.”

Carving out a final development plan for downtown has become another pitched battle between pro-development and both anti-growth and slow-growth forces.

Santa Monica, which has a history of development wars, saw the current battle intensify when Residocracy began circulating petitions Sunday for an initiative that would place the fate of most development projects in the hands of voters ("Online Residents' Organization Submits Ballot Measure," February 19, 2016).

Travis Page, senior planner for the City, said the commission’s Wednesday meeting attracted 38 speakers, although it was primarily a work session.

Many who spoke in favor of the plan said it would clear the way for more housing downtown.

Despite much discussion, Paige said, little was accomplished regarding a proposal to allow construction downtown of up to 130 feet in height – a significant increase from the current 84 feet and a highly controversial change.

The seven commissioners were unable to agree on a new height allowance to recommend to the council and will revisit the issue in May.

“You need four hands,” Paige said. “There wasn’t a consensus” on whether to remove or keep the higher height limits, he said.

Directly impacted are three major projects already set for City Council votes, he said.

One is the closely-watched $255 million proposed redevelopment of the 87-year-old Fairmont Miramar Hotel. The plan submitted, but withdrawn under pressure from development critics, replaced two of the existing buildings with three new ones, including a tower that exceeded 300 feet that was vigorously opposed by slow-growth forces.

The proposal also featured up to 120 condos. City officials are still awaiting a redesign.

Also impacted, Page said, is a Frank Gehry-designed 244-foot hotel on a 2-acre parcel at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, as well as a 12-story plaza to be built on City owned land in the heart of Downtown Santa Monica at 4th/5th streets and Arizona, Paige said.

“Each is already over the (current) 84-foot limit,” he said.

SMCLC called the plan “paradise” for big developers and warned that super-sized projects would “open the floodgates to massive development while sharply reducing community input."

“This Plan is unacceptable and it breaks faith with residents,” Coalition officials wrote.

SMCLC is asking that the draft be rejected and re-written.

“We can have and want an exciting, active, accessible downtown without overdevelopment,” Gordon said.

“In fact, overdevelopment will choke and destroy what we most love about our city.

Residents feel that we are losing control over what makes our City livable.”

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