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Planning Commission Praises Adjusted Dennys Replacement Project

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

November 17, 2014 -- More than four months after the Planning Commission trashed a proposal to transform the property occupied by Denny’s restaurant on Lincoln Boulevard off Colorado Avenue into a mixed-use project, the panel praised a significantly adjusted version on Thursday.

NMS Properties made several changes to the proposal, including a reduction in the residential floor area (91,500 square feet to 85,700 square feet) and an increase in the amount of open space from 35 percent to nearly 67 percent.

Ground floor setbacks were increased to allow for wider sidewalks and more outdoor seating. Also, breaks and openings have been added to the building, “resulting in a paseo and widened interior courtyard on the podium level,” the staff report states.

“This is a huge improvement over the last iteration that we saw,” Commissioner Gerda Newbold said. “The breaking up of the mass on both sides of the building just completely changes it.”

Commissioner Amy Anderson added, “This is a better design just in terms of the massiveness of the previous design.”

When the proposal was presented in July, Newbold said, “There’s not much I like about the design,” while Commission Chair Jason Parry called the appearance “fundamentally wrong for the site.”

Several other commissioners had more negative comments (“Commissioners Rip Denny’s Replacement Project,” July 1, 2014).

The proposal calls for a nearly 100,000-square-foot project featuring a five-story, 60-foot-high building with more than 13,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, 100 residential units ranging from studios to three-bedroom and a three-level subterranean garage with 221 parking spaces.

Because the proposal does not comply with several zoning restrictions, NMS must go into a development agreement with the City. As with all such agreements, the developer must offer so-called community benefits.

Among the community benefits on the table is affordable housing, with 10 units designated for “very-low income” people and 10 for those earning a “moderate income.”

The proposal meets the requirement for percentage of lower-priced units in the City’s Affordable Housing Production Plan (AHPP), but it does not obey the rule that all affordable units must include at least two bedrooms. This bothered some commissioners.

“We have a real need for larger units for families making 20 to 25,000 [dollars] a year, especially in a location like this near the [future] light rail [station],” said Commissioner Sue Himmelrich, who was elected to the City Council last week.

Another issue for some commissioners was the number of parking spaces, which they said was too high.

“That is too much parking,” Newbold said. “This is where we want to incent people not to have as many cars.”

The proposal calls for unbundled parking, in which tenants could pay a cheaper rent if they choose not to have a parking space. Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy said she did not favor this concept, although she said her opinion could change.

“I’m not sure whether this area is the right place to have additional public parking or if this is a place to have just the right amount of spaces per unit,” Kennedy said.

Others said the unbundled concept was a good one for this project.

“It creates this awareness by the commercial tenants or the residential tenants that parking is an additional amenity that one has to proactively choose to pay for,” Anderson said.

She continued, “It creates an opportunity for less cost for people if they have chosen to move about the city through some alternative means of transportation.”

Negotiations on the development agreement between the developer and City staff will continue, and then the project will return to the commission for a hearing and recommendation.

A City Council hearing and decision will follow the commission’s review. The Architectural Review Board will have a final say on the design.

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