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Santa Monica Council Postpones Height Limit Decision

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

July 11, 2013 -- Those hoping for some resolution to Santa Monica's heated height limit debates will have to wait another month after the City Council voted to postpone its decision on how tall buildings could rise Downtown.

With three Council members absent from Tuesday's meeting, the remaining four decided not to vote on the divisive question of just how tall developers should be able to build on eight pieces of prime real estate in Santa Monica's Downtown until the Council's August 13 meeting.

The Council's decision to postpone the vote will give the Planning Commission a chance to weigh-in on staff's recommended height limits of 120 to 135 feet -- approximately 12 stories -- for the eight sites to be studied in a State-mandated environmental impact report (EIR).

“It's been a very intense and strong dialogue,” Principal Planner Sarah Lejeune told the Council Tuesday.

That dialogue is far from over. Since the vote was postponed, more than half of those who originally signed up to speak opted not to testify until the Council hears the item again.

At the top of the meeting, Mayor Pam O'Connor explained that, unless there is additional information on the item when it comes back in August, those who spoke Tuesday may not get to speak on the item again.

But the meeting revealed a community divided on the question of height and what limits should be studied when the City undertakes its California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study.

“The Chamber is not in favor of the staff recommendations on the range of heights and densities to be studied in the Downtown Specific Plan EIR,” said Laurel Rosen, president of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.

Carl Hansen, the Chamber's government affairs director and a resident of the Wilmont Neighborhood, agreed, calling for a broader range of height limits be studied to keep options open.

“I don't see any reason to put too heavy a restriction on anything yet,” said one resident of Second Street. “More tax revenue means more public spaces and more parks, hopefully.”

But many speakers expressed their apprehension over the possibility of building taller than the current 84-foot limit.

“Please keep (Santa Monica) human scale,” one resident implored the Council.

“I think we did it right when we did our Downtown planning,” said former mayor Dennis Zane, who was on the City Council when it adopted the 84-foot height limit in 1984.

Staff recommendation would give the City a chance to “back down from the excesses” being considered and be more “reasonable,” Zane said. “Excessive development will only alienate your community and your residents from your Downtown.”

Another resident felt that Santa Monica is already too developed. “Santa Monica already feels almost like a jail with walls on both sides and very little sky,” he said, referring to Downtown as “stucco canyon.”

Still, staff believes that the 120 to 135-foot limits will work. Lejeune explained that the proposed height limits were set in relation to the 140-foot clock tower Downtown.

“It's a historic building,” she said. “It's revered,” adding that the clock tower building is a landmark. “We're hoping that if we do it right, we'll get some future landmarks.”

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