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Santa Monica Won't Study Additional Height in Downtown Plan Environmental Review

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

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

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

August 14, 2013 -- Shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, the City Council voted unanimously against studying the potential environmental impact of buildings over 84 feet in Downtown Santa Monica.

Capping more than four hours of public testimony and discussion, the Council rejected staff's recommendation to use Santa Monica's 12-story clock tower as the benchmark for potential height limits at eight “oppotunity” sites in the bayside city's downtown district.

After the Council vote, developers who want to build taller than the 84 feet staff will study, would have to pay for their own costly and lengthy environmental impact report (EIR).

“We're not adopting a plan tonight,” said Mayor Pam O'Connor early Wednesday morning, but added that City should not have to study the impact of projects that surpass the City's long-standing height limits.

O'Connor said that if the Council does approve the Downtown plan with the 84 foot height limit, developers hoping to build taller than that would have to apply for an amendment to the Plan.

“Any site can apply for an amendment,” she said, which would ultimately hinge on Council approval.

“We're not precluding (these projects) from happening,” O'Connor said.

O'Connor was referring to three major hotel projects along Ocean Avenue -- all of which would be significantly taller than the City's 29-year-old six-story height limit -- that have been flashpoints for controversy in recent months.

The projects -- proposed along a half-mile stretch from the Santa Monica Pier to just norht of Wilshire Boulevard -- range from 195 feet to more than 300 feet.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown had misgivings about studying the impact of tall buildings, which he said would “ foster expectations” among developers that their projects would get approved.

Others worried that it simply wasn't worth the effort to study taller buildings because the information gleaned would be minimal.

“When we talk about height in the abstract, it doesn't give us much information,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis.

“If someone wants to build something on these opportunity sites, they should be required to do their own EIR,” she said.

Developers agree that the projects should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Alan Epstein, part-owner of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, one of the three hotels poised for a major redevelopment, was not disappointed in the Council's decision.

“We're pleased that the City Council decided that the Downtown opportunity sites should be studied with project-specific EIRs based upon their individual merits, including their design and their benefits to the community,” Epstein said.

Currently, the EIR for the Miramar's proposed $255 million overhaul of its four-acre campus is underway and would be completed sometime next spring.

Now that the Council has voted on the parameters for the Specific Plan's EIR, staff will go forward with drawing up a framework for the study, which they say will take six to nine weeks.

After the framework goes before the Planning Commission, staff said the residents will get to weigh in at a scoping meeting before the full analysis begins, but the specific date of that meeting depends on when staff can get in front of the Planning Commission.

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