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Planning Commission Delays Vote on 125-unit Condo Development

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

July 20 -- The Santa Monica Planning Commission declined to take action Wednesday on a 125-unit condominium project after several members charged that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), economic feasibility and traffic studies, and circulation plans were poorly drafted.

The project proposed by developer Craig Jones -- who has built hundreds of residential rental units in Downtown Santa Monica over the past decade -- would likely be the largest condo development in the beachside city.

“I am not going to vote for a six-story building,” said Commissioner Julia Lopez Dad. “If it were really well-designed, maybe I could. This one isn’t and makes other projects we rejected but the City Council approved look good.

“We need to get to a place where we have a project the community will support,” Dad said.

The proposed five-story mixed-use building at 525 Broadway -- which abides by the current zoning code -- includes 125 market rate condominiums and 8,311 square feet of commercial space, most of it slated for a restaurant. Four levels of subterranean parking would provide 355 spaces.

The building would be 60 feet high with projections for required parapets, elevator towers, and stairwell enclosures extending to 63 feet above average natural grade, according to the proposal.

Vehicular site access, currently from Sixth Street, would be rerouted to Fifth Court Alley, a one-way alley. The proposed project would include the construction of two driveways from the alley -- one exclusively used by residents and their guests, the other by businesses.

The condominiums include 65 two-bedroom units, 56 one-bedroom units and four efficiency units. All the residential units would have pedestrian access from Sixth Street with walk-up townhomes at the northern end of the site. Two private elevated courtyards facing Broadway and Sixth Street would be exclusively used by tenants.

“We are replacing an unattractive auto-oriented commercial building with what we think is an exciting pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use building,” said PRU/JSM representative Allen Freeman.

Staff worked with the developer to improve the initial design, planning officials said.

“Staff has done a great deal of work with the applicant and once felt the project had more of an institutional design,” said Eileen Fogarty, director of Santa Monica Planning and Community Development.

“There was an emphasis on creating pedestrian orientation, breaking up the massing and the scale,” she said.

However, the Planning Commission voted to continue discussion and hold off accepting staff recommendations to adopt a draft resolution certifying an EIR, a draft resolution approving a Statement of Overriding Considerations and a Mitigation Monitoring Program.

Commissioners Jay Johnson and Hank Koning, an architect, criticized the project’s traffic study had harsh words for the project’s traffic study, circulation plan and economic feasibility study. They predicted that the proposed development would generate more traffic than calculated and that the units would fetch higher prices.

Kaku Associates, the traffic consultant for the City, studied 19 intersections and concluded significant impacts at eight of them: Fourth Street at Broadway, Colorado Avenue, the I-10 Westbound off-ramp and the I-10 Eastbound on-ramp; Fifth Street and Colorado, and Lincoln Boulevard at Santa Monica Boulevard, the I-10 Westbound on-ramp and the I-10 Eastbound on-ramp.

Johnson was dismayed that Kaku did not analyze the impacts the development -- which is expected to generate approximately 1,484 net new vehicle trips a day -- would have on left or right turns from Santa Monica Boulevard into Fifth Court Alley.

He said had a significant concern because the EIR found that the proposed project would.

A Kaku representative present at Wednesday’s meeting said “alleys are typically not specifically included in traffic studies,” because alleys are considered to be extensions of development project driveways.

“We do not have a response about the traffic, but would like to reiterate the fact that we met with the City’s transportation department on three occasions to discuss traffic issues,” Freeman said.

Johnson also questioned the economic feasibility study, which analyzed whether the developer could build a complex with fewer units. The analysis was based on the price of units averaging 843 square feet, though some of the units at 525 Broadway are larger or smaller.

“Did we look at pricing per unit to come up with an economic feasibility to justify a 94-unit or 63-unit project?” Johnson asked staff.

No, Yeo said.

“Anyone in the business -- lenders, banks, developers -- knows not to price these numbers based on an 843 average square feet,” said Johnson, who owns several apartment buildings in Santa Monica. “Look at a per unit price analysis based on location, size, orientation and amenities.”

Koning had problems with the circulation plan, taking issue with a design he said forced residents and restaurant guests to enter and leave the complex at driveways and lobbies too close together.

“The restaurant is on Broadway,” Koning said. “For anybody driving up to that, they would have to loop around to get to the alley. Once they park their cars below, they would have to walk up or take the elevator to the residential lobby and then walk down some stairs, out to Fifth Street and around the corner to the front.”

Architect Jonathan Watts, from Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A., admitted this circulation plan is complicated and he would address Koning’s concerns with the developer.

The Planning Commission did not wish to give specific direction to staff or the developer on how to proceed with the project.

Commissioners said that City staff, Freeman and Watts heard the entire commission discussion and should know which aspects of the project need to be reviewed more closely.


“We need to get to a place where we have a project the community will support.” Julie Lopez Dad


“We are replacing an unattractive auto-oriented commercial building with what we think is an exciting pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use building.” Allen Freeman


“Did we look at pricing per unit to come up with an economic feasibility to justify a 94-unit or 63-unit project?” Jay Johnson


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