PICO BLVD — A proposal to build a new affordable housing development on the east side of town met a mixed reaction from neighbors during an unveiling of its preliminary designs on Wednesday, raising concerns that the project might be out of scale with the neighborhood and bring in more traffic.
Community Corporation of Santa Monica, the largest developer of affordable housing in the city, introduced the project during a community workshop held just blocks away from the site in question at 2802 Pico Blvd. where it plans to build a four-story complex with at least 36 apartment units for very-low to low-income families — households that bring in approximately $25,000 to $45,000 a year.
It’s one of nine affordable housing projects that the nonprofit plans to undertake over the next few years, including a handful of renovations of existing apartment buildings and new construction. The property, which currently houses an automotive repair shop, was acquired by Community Corp. in February for $5.5 million.
While residents generally seemed supportive of creating more affordable housing, some expressed concerns that the project would worsen congestion in the city. Others said they had issue with the size, believing it’s too large and out of character with the other buildings along Pico.
“We think of this as a small community street,” Siobhan Schenz, who lives about two blocks from the site, said. “People’s perception is this is a small lightly-developed corridor.”
Moore Ruble Yudell, the architect for the project, presented two different versions of the project, one of which would come with 36 units, a community room and retail on the corner of Pico and 28th Street, and another that would have 37 units but without the commercial space.
The architectural firm, which is located further west on Pico Boulevard, was responsible for designing the Santa Monica Public Library in Downtown and the Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Garage.
The development is about the same height as the Santa Monica College administrative building on the next block, which is only three stories but also 40 feet tall, said James Mary O’Connor, the principal architect.
The project will have a combination of two and three bedroom units with two floors of parking. The rent will range from roughly $500 to $800 a month.
A combination of bank loans, state and city grants, federal tax credit and private investments will finance the project, which is estimated to cost around $10-$11 million, including the site acquisition costs. Generally about 30 to 40 percent of Community Corp. projects are funded through City Hall, said Joan Ling, the executive director.
Ling said the building will be designed to scale up toward Pico Boulevard, starting at about 2.5 stories on the south side of the property, which abuts a two-story apartment building, and going up to four stories on the north side.
Tanna Moontaro, a 14-year-resident who lives just across the street from the project, said that she had concerns with the building’s height and shape.
“To me it looks really boxy,” she said.
O’Connor said that the building can be broken down so the scale appears smaller, adding that the height doesn’t necessarily dictate whether a development would seem big.
“Our intention is not to make it look like a box,” he said.
The architect added that the building aesthetically will not have a front or back but would rather have a continuous design.
“Today, you can have a building that is seen all around,” he said.
Some residents said they would prefer the option for an all residential building, taking out the retail space which they believe would just add more traffic. Some pointed out that a number of businesses have failed along Pico Boulevard over the past few years.
“It seems like if it’s something that could easily fail, maybe it’ll be better to have that extra unit,” Michael Tarbet, a neighbor who lives a few blocks away, said.
Ling said that the retail space will most likely not be occupied by a business that attracts a lot of traffic. Another of the organization’s projects located at Main and Pacific streets has a shoe repair shop, cafe and water purification company.
“We expect we’ll be marketing to neighborhood serving uses,” she said.
Irene Zivi, who lives next door to another Community Corp. building, said that she has had a positive experience being near an affordable housing development and expressed her support for the project.
“I think this is a great upgrade and I think people will be thrilled to have Community Corp. as a neighbor,” she said. “I feel this would give Pico a lift because Pico needs a lift.”