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Santa Monica's Longest-Running Apartment Construction Still Stalled

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 10, 2013 -- In April 2012, Naren Desai, the owner of a small parcel in midtown Santa Monica, was hopeful that a construction project he started 15 years ago would move past the remaining hurdles necessary and that he would be finished.

A year later, the project stands unchanged from the day in April when Desai, standing in front of the dilapidated and half-finished apartment building, optimistically announced that construction could be completed within months.

Desai says it has been months since he's heard from City planners about his two-story project, which he started building in 1997 on the same footprint as four single-family homes that had been damaged in the Northridge earthquake.

“I don't know where we stand,” Desai said. “Or the status of the project.”

City planners said they are waiting for Desai to show that his building, which is slightly bigger than the zoning ordinance allows, needs to be that big.

“We are awaiting more detailed pro forma data to justify the modifications to the Zoning Code that he would need to continue construction,” said Principal Planner Paul Foley, though he added he does not directly oversee the project.

Desai said of the planner overseeing the project, “She is not answering.”

The planner in charge did not return several phone calls or emails from The Lookout for comment.

The particular circumstances surrounding the small development have turned what should have been a run-of-the-mill construction project into what has become the city's longest-running development.

When Desai started building in 1997, the City had adopted a temporary ordinance to make it easier for owners to rebuild buildings that might have been damaged in the quake. The ordinance, Desai said, allowed for owners to build “a little bigger and a little higher.”

Desai even sought FEMA money to help with the project, which limited him to a pool of contractors approved by the Federal government.

It wasn't long after construction started that Desai found himself arguing with the contractor about the work being done on the site, eventually stalling the project while a nearly decade-long legal battle raged.

In that time, the temporary ordinance expired and Desai suddenly found himself with a project that was too big and too high, and with not enough parking. A four-unit apartment would require at least eight parking spaces for tenants and one for guests.

In order to continue the project, Desai has had to apply for several variances to allow him to surpass the neighborhood’s zoning standards. And to get around the parking requirements, he reclassified the project as a senior housing development, which has laxer parking requirements under State law.

Desai said that he believes he has filed all the necessary paperwork and paid all the necessary fees. He is only waiting for approval.

“I have not heard anything,” he said.

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