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City Council Tweaks Interim LUCE Ordinance  

By Gene Williams
Lookout Staff

April 29, 2011 -- The City Council extended an interim ordinance Tuesday aimed at enforcing Santa Monica’s 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update standards until permanent zoning regulations are hammered out.

However, a number of amendments have been added to the stopgap measure since it was first introduced in January.

Applauded by slow-growthers and criticized by the business community at its January debut, the ordinance requires projects over 32 feet in height to enter into development agreements (DA's) with the City.

Previously many of these projects – especially in Downtown – had been allowed to go through a simpler administrative review process as an incentive to build housing.

The amendments added Tuesday are intended to maintain incentives for residential growth Downtown and encourage developers who might otherwise shy away from DA’s.

The council passed the amended ordinance by a unanimous seven votes.

“I know Mayor Pro Tem Davis and I were very vocal about making certain that we would not impede continuing efforts to build neighborhoods in the Downtown area,” Mayor Richard Bloom said, “and I am satisfied that this moves us quite well in that direction.”

Perhaps the most important amendment for developers is an exemption the City found in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for housing projects with fewer than 100 units that are within one-half mile of a major public transit hub.

Because of the CEQA exemption, these projects won’t be required to undergo an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), as is typically required in a development agreement.

Thanks to the exemption, the review process could be shortened by as much as a year, City staff wrote in its report to council.

It is likely that most Downtown housing projects will qualify for this exemption, staff wrote.

Also under the amended ordinance, Downtown projects will have their subterranean levels discounted so as not to reduce the amount of floor area that is allowed to be built above ground.

In addition, Downtown projects can participate in a City-administered shared-parking program that will ease on-site parking requirements without the time-consuming and uncertain process of seeking a variance.

Citywide, there are six projects in various review stages that will now have to enter into DA’s under the ordinance. Four of the projects are Downtown. Some of these may be far enough along in review to qualify for a streamlined DA process.

Two other projects already near final approval will be allowed to go forward without a DA.

Also included in the ordinance is an amendment that will extend from six months to a year the length of time a building on Main Street can be vacant before it loses status for a legal but non-conforming use – helping landlords while also bringing Main Street in line with regulations throughout the rest of city.

The interim ordinance may be amended again before permanent zoning regulations are in place, probably in late 2013 or early 2014.


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