CITY HALL — After years of debate, a massive plan that will guide development in the 142.5-acre old industrial district on the east end of town got the thumbs up from the City Council early Wednesday morning.
In a packed City Council Chamber filled with advocates and those who said the plan would bring too much traffic to an already congested area, the City Council tacked on a handful of additional amendments in a 6-1 vote, with Councilmember Kevin McKeown casting the dissenting vote.
The Bergamot Area Plan lays out explicit standards for business types, building densities and even types of streets that will be included in the area encompassing the existing Bergamot Station Arts Center, an incoming Expo Light Rail Line station and the Santa Monica College Academy of Entertainment and Technology.
The plan, which includes heights ranging from 36 to 86 feet, proposes developing the area around a central “spine” along Nebraska Avenue that connects a mixed-use creative district on the eastern side with the Transit Village proposed by Hines Corp. for the old Paper Mate facility that will include offices, housing and retail.
The council ordered future housing be marketed to first responders like police officers and fire fighters, as well as nurses and teachers; the addition of dog parks and community gardens in the proposed open spaces; and allow one grocery store up to 15,000 square feet in the plan area.
Under housing affordability, council suggested including a density bonus for developers who agree to build housing that is affordable to those making up to 120 percent of the area median income, which is $77,760 for a family of four, with at least 50 percent of the bonus units being affordable to those making 80 percent of the area median income or lower. The bonus would only be for one bedroom units or greater. There would be no density bonuses for singles.
In the Tier 3 projects, which are those that go beyond what is allowed under the zoning code and are negotiated through a development agreement, there would be an increase in density to 2.5 floor area ratio (FAR) from 1.5. FAR is the ratio between the total floor area in a development and the amount of the parcel that a building uses. There would be 1.5 FAR in Tier 2 and housing would be allowed by a conditional use permit.
The council also approved a first reading of an ordinance for the new mixed-use neighborhood, and amended an interim zoning ordinance in a 6-1 vote. The ordinance would clear up the relationship between plans versus zoning in case there were any conflicting provisions, said Francie Stefan, community and strategic planning manager with City Hall.
For example, she said the zoning ordinance currently prohibits new restaurants in the Bergamot Area, but the Bergamot Plan allows them. The interim ordinance clarifies that restaurants are allowed because the Bergamot Plan prevails when there’s a conflict.
McKeown said he feared a “yes” vote would be an “empty promise.”
He was concerned the plan would create a disparity between what future workers could afford in rent in the plan versus how much the market rate apartments go for.
“We undo all the good, sustainable thinking behind creating a neighborhood where jobs and housing are located,” McKeown said.
Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day suggested an FAR of 2.5 after hearing from longtime operators at the private properties located in the plan saying they would be more successful in their objectives.
O’Day said the Bergamot Area Plan was strong and included a lot of outreach and community involvement.
The plan includes 10 potential new streets and 15 potential pedestrian and bicycle pathways as well as enhanced bicycle facilities. City officials also proposed that streets be counted as open space, which got a laugh from the crowd.
McKeown said streets can be considered open space, but most people think parks are protected and safe and a relatively isolated spot, which the middle of most streets aren’t.
After more than 40 workshops and three years of dialogue with the community and city officials, the plan is envisioned to give the community a voice, said Peter James, senior strategic planner with City Hall.
The plan would have four districts, each with specific standards and development densities meant to dictate the kinds of businesses and lifestyles that would take place there. There are two overlay zones that strive to activate key portions of the plan area with pedestrian-oriented uses and streetscape.
While the much-lauded Land Use and Circulation Element, which was adopted in 2010 to guide development in the city, identified only two districts for the area — the mixed-use creative district and Bergamot Transit Village — officials added two additional ones to help transition better into the existing neighborhoods that surround the area.
The proposed plan also didn’t have a separate environmental review, much to the chagrin of a vast majority of the public who asked for a separate review and requested council downsize the project. Residents asked council members how they would know what the actual traffic impacts would be if there was no new EIR and how the overdevelopment is impacting the residential areas in Santa Monica.
Carol Landsberg, speaking on behalf of the North of Montana Neighborhood Association, asked the council to downsize the plan and incorporate more open space. She said, approved in its current form, the plan would increase density, pollution and traffic in Santa Monica. She also called for a new EIR.
Others said the council was turning the city into a “clogged nightmare” thanks to the increase in traffic, which is adding thousands of car trips daily.
But, city officials said the impacts from the Bergamot Area Plan would be the same or less than those identified in the LUCE EIR, so it wasn’t necessary to pursue a separate EIR document. City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said the EIR recommended by city planning officials, if adopted, would stand up in court if challenged.
James said the LUCE EIR studied 41 intersections across the city, in addition to five additional intersections in the plan area.
“We really wanted to know how it impacted those immediate intersections,” James said. With the Bergamot Area Plan, city officials were able to remove three of the five significantly impacted intersections that were identified in the LUCE. Additionally, city officials said the plan wouldn’t add to rush hour traffic at night and vehicle miles traveled and vehicular emissions would be reduced as compared to the LUCE EIR.
That would be accomplished by increased carpooling, use of public transit and other transportation demand management measures. Many residents expressed doubt, and said city planners were living in a fantasy world.
Phil Brock, Parks and Recreation commissioner, said there was a lack of potential park space in the plan. He called parks “the lungs of our city.”
“The promise of an unnamed parcel that might be named later, or [we] might be able to buy in the future, if we remember to buy, that’s a huge problem,” Brock said. “It doesn’t need to be a massive park, but we do need village greens.”
For all its naysayers, the plan did have its supporters who commended city officials for their work and saw the plan as a way to continue living in Santa Monica.
In the Art Center District, which includes 5.6 acres of city-owned property and 1.8 privately-owned acres adjacent to the future light rail station, folks asked to increase the FAR to 2.5.
Attorneys representing Wayne Blank, the man credited with turning Bergamot Station into a bustling arts center known around the world for its concentration of unique galleries, said the plan should include flexibility for residential use above ground floor, in addition to increasing density.
Craig Krull, who has been a gallery owner at Bergamot Station for 19 years, said he was grateful for city officials recognizing the importance of the arts. Krull said city officials listened to the community and made a plan that reflects the desires of all involved.
“I’m frankly surprised at the uproar because they did what we wanted them to do,” Krull said.
Peter Fetterman, who also owns a gallery in Bergamot Station, said gallery owners are a very powerful cultural factor for the city.
“We are concerned about the fragile nature of what’s going on now,” he said. “We are free museums. If this was to disappear, not only would there be a strong economic effect of our leaving, but a loss of our culture.”