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Lionsgate Passes Council, On to ARB for Review  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

July 28, 2011 – Citing Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) chapter and verse, residents and city officials argued the merits of the proposed Lionsgate development, which was ultimately approved by the City Council Tuesday night and sent on to the Architectural Review Board.

The principles of neighborhood preservation, traffic reduction and public benefits – all worked out during the six years Santa Monicans debated the LUCE – were used by supporters and opponents of Lionsgate during the council's review of the project's DA and Environmental Impact Review (EIR).

“While Culver City has Sony and Hollywood has Paramount, Santa Monica will have Lionsgate,” said Jack Walter, Colorado Creative Studios managing partner and the developer behind the Lionsgate project.

An architect's rendering showing one vision of the proposed Lionsgate
executive headquarters. Drawing from City of Santa Monica Staff Report.

“When residents, employees, students and visitors step off the train under the double platforms at Bergamot Station, they will be greeted with a vibrant, creative, economically viable, pedestrian-friendly transit community that will be the envy of the southland,” said Walter.

He could have been taking his talking points straight out of the LUCE, the development of which slowed his project down by at least several years.

Lionsgate first came before the City Council in 2007, but was put on hold until the LUCE could be worked out.

The very fact that the 191,982-square-foot project at Colorado Boulevard and Stewart Street has a DA is an artifact of the LUCE, as are its public benefits which include a Transportation Demand Management program that calls for an Average Vehicle Ridership of 1.5, free transit passes for employees and flexible work hours, along with shared parking and car sharing.

Other benefits include a community meeting room, widened sidewalks, a $363,000 contribution to the construction of the nearby Expo Line station and local internships and hiring.

The project “advances the goals and the policies of the LUCE,” City Planner Paul Foley told the Council.

But a number of residents disagreed.

Most opponents had turned out because they said the project threatened the future of the Village Trailer Park, two lots east of the proposed Lionsgate development.

While Walter said that his project was in no way related to the park, they said that the LUCE demanded that commercial development be matched with residential development, 50-50, to preserve neighborhoods and affordable housing.

Village Trailer Park is “the only form of low-income home ownership in Santa Monica,” park resident June Griffin said. “The City Council should honor the LUCE” and require housing in the Lionsgate development, she said.

Some residents also said that LUCE principles dictated that the three contiguous parcels – the site of the proposed Lionsgate development, the site of the proposed Roberts development, and the Village Trailer Park – be viewed by the city as a whole to protect the residents of the trailer park, and developments on the parcels be passed or rejected by the city in concert.

The four councilmembers present Tuesday night weren't buying the residents' interpretation of the LUCE. They said that the LUCE requires an overall balance of housing and commercial uses in the city's districts, not in each individual project.

“(Neither) the City Council nor did the LUCE process ever suggest that each project was supposed to be one-by-one a 50-50 split of housing and commercial space. The objective here is to create a balance in the district,” said Mayor Richard Bloom.

“In all likelihood, if there were to be a change (in the Village Trailer Park), it's going to be primarily housing,” Bloom added.

The three contiguous parcels which make up the proposed Mixed-Use/Creative District are in completely difference phases of development, so it doesn't make sense to try to approve them together, Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis said.

As for traffic, several neighborhood associations, including Friends of Sunset Park and Northeast Neighbors oppose the Lionsgate project because they see at as part of a series of developments that together will clog up traffic in the area.

The Council had its own counterarguments.

Bloom said provisions in the DA minimized the impacts of traffic, and the DA exchanged the impacts “for some very substantial community benefits not the least of which is an entirely new neighborhood.”

Even if the Lionsgate project falls through, something will be built on the lot, and if it is a smaller project, it might not require a DA and community benefits, so the project will have an even worse effect on traffic, Davis said.

Councilmember Pam O'Connor, who sits on the board of LA Metro, had her own take on traffic delays and the LUCE.

“What causes delay?” she asked. “More vehicles cause delay, the older person crossing the street, the mother with the stroller who's crossing, the more people who are walking, who are crossing the street, they're going to cause delay for folks who are driving.

“Because that person who's in the single occupant vehicle is going to be delayed a few seconds, we need to design around that, then we're going to continue to design car-centric areas,” said O'Connor.

“Frankly the vision of the LUCE is not about that,” she said.

The council did take concerns of a few of the speakers, and of the Planning Commission, into consideration as it crafted its final motion approving an ordinance supporting the DA.

Several residents had criticized the scale and aesthetics of the two four-story buildings, and their visual transition to their surroundings, as had the Planning Commission earlier this month.

After discussing several alternatives, including referring the development back to the Planning Commission, the council decided to give the Architectural Review Board specific directions and authority to review the project's architecture.

The Lionsgate DA, its Environmental Impact Report and a Statement of Overriding Considerations and Mitigation were unanimously passed by Bloom, Davis, O'Connor and Councilmember Bob Holbrook.

Councilmembers Bobby Shriver, Terry O'Day and Kevin McKeown were absent.

"When residents, employees, students and visitors step off the train under the double platforms at Bergamot Station, they will be greeted with a vibrant, creative, economically viable, pedestrian-friendly transit community that will be the envy of the southland."
Jack Walter



The project “advances the goals and the policies of the LUCE.”
Paul Foley


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