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Development Plan for Downtown Santa Monica Spurring Housing, Report Says

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

April 22, 2019 -- A total of 1,762 units have been proposed under the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) approved two years ago, which foresees 2,500 new multi-family units built through 2030, according to a status report from planning staff.

They are among the 2,586 residential units that are under construction, approved or making their way through the planning pipeline, according to the report sent to the City Council on March 22.

If completed, the proposed units would nearly double the 3,210 residential units Downtown officials say have already been built in the Central Business District, most of them constructed in the past two decades.

"A major goal of the DCP is to create a long-term Downtown community by growing the residential population and serving the various needs of individuals, families and people of all ages and income levels," the report said.

More than 800 of the units slated for Downtown are in projects approved under the 1984 General Plan that was superseded by the DCP.

They include 320 units in four projects that are under construction near Lincoln Boulevard and Colorado Avenue and another 504 units in three projeccts that have been approved but have not yet pulled building permits

Under the DCP, five projects totaling 321 units that include 29 affordable units have been approved so far, according to the report.

Of the projects that are in the planning pipeline, 1,106 are in 17 "legacy projects" that are pending approval.

Legacy projects require 20 percent affordable units on-site, or 25 percent off-site ("Santa Monica Council Sets Highest Affordable Housing Requirement in State for Downtown," July 27, 2017).

Eight of the legacy projects would have required a Development Agreement (DA) under the General Plan but now require only Administrative Approval (AA) under the DCP, according to planning staff.

Of the total units in the 17 legacy projects, 43 percent are proposed to be affordable.

The affordable housing is the result of a "unique approach" under the DCP, staff said.

The plan boosts the requirement for affordable units and offers incentives such added height that can reach 84 feet in the Transit Adjacent District.

But not all developers are taking advantage of the incentives, according to the report. In fact, some have found loopholes.

Five of the projects are market rate Single Room Occupancy (SRO) developments that are proposing no parking on site and the minimum 5 percent affordable units required in other parts of the city.

The five SROs, staff said, "are an example of how property owners are selecting to not access higher height potential, and instead build by-right projects that avoid many of the Plan’s community benefits requirements."

Last month, the council put an immediate halt to the market-rate “micro units” proposed for Downtown by passing an urgency interim zoning ordinance ("Santa Monica Set to Ban Market Rate 'Micro Units,'" March 22, 2019).

While the five SROs only require administrative approval, three of the "legacy projects" are hotel mixed-use developments on major sites that include affordable housing and can reach 130 feet under the DCP.

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 City owned land -- would require Development Agreements approved by the Council that will set the number of affordable units.

"It is anticipated that the Established Large Site projects would contribute a great deal to the Downtown community if and when those projects are fully executed," the report said.

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