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Planning Commission to Tackle Santa Monica's Downtown Specific Plan

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

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

By Lookout Staff

July 12, 2013 -- At the top of Wednesday's meeting, the Planning Commission voted to clear its July 17 schedule to make way for a lengthy discussion of height limits in Downtown Santa Monica.

The City Council's vote Tuesday to put off a decision until August 13 on what height limits to study as part of a State-mandated environmental impact report (EIR) of Santa Monica's Downtown Specific Plan will give the planning commissioners a chance to voice their opinions on the divisive question of whether developers should be allowed to build up.

While the Downtown Specific Plan has gone before the Planning Commission on several occasions, this will be the first time since staff recommended an upward limit of 120 to 135 feet be studied in the EIR for buildings at eight “opportunity sites.”

“I believe in the interests of good planning in the city that assessment of the opportunity sites and the issues surrounding them and the Downtown Specific Plan should occur at the Planning Commission before anywhere else,” said Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon.

There are currently three hotel projects proposed at different sites along Ocean Avenue that would exceed the staff-recommended limit, with towers ranging from 195 feet to 320 feet tall.

Perhaps the most controversial of all is redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, a $255 million plan to revamp the 80-year-old campus by demolishing two buildings and replacing them with three, including a 21-story tower with up to 120 condos.

If the Council decides to study the staff-recommended height limits, it would essentially mean that when the Council votes on the final height limits in the Specific Plan, it would not be able to set those limits higher than those studied in the EIR without going through process again.

McKinnon suggested that the Commission also plan to meet on July 18 in the event that public comments went long.

“I know it's a little irregular,” McKinnon said. “But given the level of community interest we've seen over the past months and the level of community interest we saw last night, it's entirely possible we could get 60 or 70 people here next week.”

Commissioner Sue Himmelrich explained that while she had cleared her schedule Wednesday, she would be hard pressed to continue the discussion on Thursday.

As a compromise, the Commission agreed to meet at 6 p.m., a full hour earlier than the usual start time.

As part of next Wednesday's meeting, Commissioners will get a chance to see a 3D model of how the skyline of Downtown Santa Monica could be impacted by taller buildings.

At Tuesday's Council meeting, Council member Tony Vazquez asked staff to generate a model for those who may need a visual aid to help understand exactly what the impact of height might might.

“That could help inform our discussion,” said Himmelrich.

Planning Director David Martin did explain that the model was a work in progress.

“It's not a finished product, but we could at least show you where the technology is,” Martin told the Commission.

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