Santa Monica Lookout
B e s t   l o c a l   s o u r c e   f o r   n e w s   a n d   i n f o r m a t i o n

Mixed Response for Call to Postpone Big Downtown Santa Monica Projects

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

June 3, 2013 -- A proposal by three Santa Monica City Council members to postpone development agreements (DAs) for three major hotels Downtown has garnered mixed responses from the community.

Opponents of the motion -- put forward by Council members Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez -- say that waiting for the City to adopt the Downtown Specific Plan before moving forward could have detrimental effects.

The question remains whether McKeown can get the necessary fourth vote to effectively put on hold DA discussions for any Downtown buildings over 84 feet tall until at least March 2014, when staff hopes to bring the plan before the Planning Commission and the City Council. The three projects are each more than double the height limit set in 1984.

“There's no reason why we couldn't continue to have discussions on these properties while discussing the specific plan,” said Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day. “I don't know what holding off on having more community discussions get you.”

Outside of the Council, the idea is likely to meet resistance. “It stops the conversation,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc. “It stops the community process.”

At its discussion of the annual budget Wednesday, Planning Director David Martin said that postponing further discussion on the DAs would “certainly slow the projects down.”

But Martin reiterated that there were no plans to ask the Council to approve any of the three DAs before the Specific Plan is adopted.

“There would be other meetings that would be occurring,” including Planning Commission, Architectural Review Board meetings and Environment Impact Report (EIR) scoping meetings, Martin said.

He pointed out that faced with an unprecedented 35 DAs in the pipeline, the Council in January prioritized hotel projects because the generate high revenues with little traffic.

Council member Bob Holbrook said that it's too soon for him to say how he feels about the idea.

“We need to understand more of the ramifications of it,” he said, referring to the proposed motion. “I'm sure we'll talk plenty about that at the meeting.”

The motion is set to be discussed at the Council's June 11 meeting.

McKeown said his motion targets controversial projects that are having a detrimental effect on public discourse over the Specific Plan. Eight “opportunity sites” Downtown -- where staff has proposed leaving height and density limits to the City Council's discretion -- have created “heated controversies,” he added.

The three major hotel projects, each on an opportunity site along Ocean Avenue, include renovations of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and the former Holiday Inn hotel (now the Wyndham), as well as a proposed new hotel designed by Frank Gehry.

Holbrook is concerned the motion is intended to “create a roadblock” for the proposed developments, though he agrees with McKeown that the public dialogue has gotten out of hand.

“Is that the kind of discourse we're going to have where people shout at each other?” he asked, referring to meetings held last month to gather input for the Specific Plan and the Miramar project.

Rawson echoed Holbrook and McKeown's concerns.

“Part of the problem with this dialogue is that it's gotten so uncivil,” Rawson said. “People who have another opinion simply don't want to participate in the discussion.”

The Downtown Board voted last week to encourage the City Council to explore all options for Downtown development, Rawson noted.

“We don't want to artificially say that (these projects) won't happen,” she said, adding that the board believes the City should “study the broadest mix possible going into the EIR.”

Winterer supported placing McKeown’s motion on the June 11 Council agenda because moving forward with these projects before the Specific Plan was adopted seemed premature.

“I've always been of the belief that we should put the plans before the projects,” the former Planning Commissioner said. “I felt that way for the Bergamot Area for instance,” he said, a point he often brought up during his tenure on the Commission.

“It doesn't make sense to me to have staff spend their scarce time given all they have to do working on DA applications when the maximum building envelop is yet to be determined,” he said.

Planning staff is expected to go before the Council again in July before it embarks on the EIR process for the Specific Plan required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). City Manager Rod Gould said the Council will discuss the question of the eight opportunity sites.

Winterer said that, once again, the Council would be acting prematurely.

“I don't believe we can have undefined height and density on those sites because we can't do an environmental analysis,” Winterer said. “We can't do a comprehensive EIR for the downtown without defined height and density.”

Lookout Logo footer image copyrightCopyright 1999-2013 All Rights Reserved. EMAIL