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Plan for Santa Monica’s Downtown Receives Initial Nod from City Council


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

July 13, 2017 -- The Santa Monica City Council Tuesday gave the initial nod to a plan to construct nearly 2,500 multi-family rental units downtown and potentially clear the way for a trio of mixed-use hotel projects as tall as 12 stories.

Fresh from a more than six-hour public hearing the night before, the council tackled the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) in a series of votes Tuesday, although the document does not receive a final vote by the council until July 25 ("Final Arguments Start in Bitter Battle Over Downtown Santa Monica's Future," July 11, 2017).

“I'm pleased that after robust, but civil dialogue on some key issues the Council unanimously endorsed the final draft DCP,” said Mayor Ted Winterer.

The plan, which will be in place until 2030, allows 3.2 million square feet of new development, about 60 percent of it for future construction of multi-family housing.

Downtown Plan Rendering
3-D Model view of Downtown in 2030. Click here for animaton. (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Much of the housing would be in five-to-seven story apartment complexes (with ground-floor businesses) along thoroughfares near public transit, such as Lincoln Boulevard.

Now congested with commuters, Lincoln -- like other major streets downtown -- is redesigned to be more conducive to walking and bicycling, instead of engineered to meet the needs of vehicles.

The Council also paved the way for three projects totalling approximately 1.2 million square feet on sites included in an exclusive “overlay” allowing building heights of up to 130 feet, instead of 84-foot height limit now in place.

The three projects -- the redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, a new mixed-use hotel project designed by Frank Gehry and "The Plaza at Santa Monica" on the City owned land -- would require Development Agreements approved by the Council.

Council Member Kevin McKeown said that without the overlay, downtown could end up with “big, boxy developments” on the two privately owned parcels.

“By drawing a line in the skyline, we are telling developers ‘Take your plans for 22-story buildings to another town,'” McKeown said.

Opponents of the plan, mostly members of the City's slow-growth movement, objected to the last-minute decision to revert to an earlier version of the DCP increasing the density of each of the three big projects.

“This is effectively spot-zoning and gives away entitlements to three developers on some of the most valuable land in the world with nothing in return for resident,” said Nikki Kolhoff, a Santa Monica resident.

Although Council Members Sue Himmelrich and Tony Vazquez voted against the motion to allow increased height and density for the "overlay" sites, Winterer said the DCP meets council’s overall goals.

The plan takes pains to preserve the “historic character of our Downtown” and to allow “continued enhancements of public green space and plazas,” Winterer.

It also creates a path to development that will “complement the economic prosperity and environmental sustainability of our entire community.”

The downtown population swells to about 250,000 visitors, workers and a small community of residents on most weekdays, City officials have said.

The DCP, which has been more than six years in the making, banks on the populace being willing to garage cars in favor of the City’s alternative transportation, such as Expo trains, City buses, car-sharing and new businesses like Lyft.

Most of the new housing units expected to be constructed through 2030 will be rentals at market rate -- among the region’s highest. But the DCP requires between 20 percent and 30 percent be deed-restricted affordable housing.

The units will be set aside for a range of income earners, from those of extremely low incomes to those deemed as earning moderate incomes.

The DCP also allows increased heights and density for 100 percent affordable housing projects and streamlines the approval process.

Housing projects of up to 75,000 square feet need only administrative approval -- a move critics complained about saying it doesn’t allow for community scrutiny.

The DCP’s critics also were angered that the council did not heed their call to replace the "Plaza" -- the 280-room luxury hotel/mixed-use project proposed on the City owned site at 4th/5th and Arizona -- with a central public park.

Although several public parks are near downtown, none are in it, they said.

“The site is perfectly suited for a public park or plaza,” said Kolhoff.

Council Member Gleam Davis expressed financial reservations about the cost of doing nothing with the City’s existing properties on the site, which total almost three acres and are prime real estate.

“They are mortgaged to the hilt,” she said.


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