CITY HALL — A proposed plan for a mixed-use “transit village” near the incoming Bergamot Station Expo Light Rail stop still has design flaws and lingering questions over affordable housing and parking, city officials said Wednesday during the Planning Commission meeting.
Hines Corp., which is proposing a project 3.5 blocks long that includes rental housing, creative office space, restaurant and retail space, has come before city officials in the past. The company modified the plan based on previous recommendations and concerns on the size and scope of the project.
“We believe the project, as designed, is a tremendous project,” said Colin Shepherd of Hines at the meeting.
But Planning Commission members decided to move discussion of the project to next week after hearing there were still some disagreements between the developer and city officials over affordable housing units and subsidized parking as well as concerns from the public on community benefits and outreach to neighborhood associations.
The commission also asked city officials to communicate with the Architectural Review Board to encourage it to review the project to provide input.
The Bergamot Transit Village Center sits on the site of the former Papermate site at 1681 26th St., and comprises five buildings ranging in height from 60 feet to 84 feet and five to seven stories tall. It has 471 residential units, 27 artist work/live units, of which 75 units would be deed-restricted at affordable and workforce rents.
There would be 29,934 square feet of neighborhood retail, 375,000 square feet of creative office space, 1,936 parking spaces in a three-level, subterranean parking structure and a 2.5 floor area ratio, or the ratio between the total floor area in a development and the amount of the parcel that a building uses.
The project also had room for bicycle parking: 928 long-term spots, 122 short-term spots, 20 showers and 323 lockers, according to city officials.
In open space, the project proposes approximately 2 acres of on-site recreational space divided into a plaza, neighborhood parks and pedestrian pathways.
Traffic was an area where the project proposed stricter standards like setting trip caps with stiff monetary penalties for non-compliance and initial and ongoing contributions to a Transit Management Association.
Doug Metzler, from Hines, said the developer is fully supportive of the citywide goal of no increased traffic during evening rush hour and there are penalties for failure to meet that. For example, the fines could be as much as $40 a day, or $25,000 a day or more.
One disagreement between city officials and Hines was in the breakdown, by income, of the 75 affordable units in the proposed plan. City Hall recommended providing 25 units at extremely low income, 10 units at low income, 20 units at moderate income and 20 units at 150 percent area median income, or AMI, while Hines recommended 25 units at extremely low income, and 50 units at 180 percent of AMI.
In parking, City Hall disagreed over how much money employees would get if they decided not to drive to work. City Hall recommended at least $160 to employees who are offered parking and at least $140 to employees whose employer has not leased parking. The developer proposed at least $175 to employees who qualify under the conditions of California’s parking cash-out law.
“We believe that cash-out should exist for people whose employers subsidize their parking,” Metzler said.
City officials also had concerns about the size of specific buildings, like one that, though it wasn’t tall, was 300 feet long and the ground units didn’t appear to get natural light or air. Officials said the building was too narrow.
For community benefits, Hines is offering pedestrian pathways and a 14,000-square-foot neighborhood park; an annual maximum $200,000 contribution to early childhood initiatives, if all the floor area for the project is constructed; local hiring for construction and permanent jobs; and a $75,000 contribution to heritage and cultural preservation initiatives in underserved communities with a priority for the Pico Neighborhood.
Some from the public had qualms the developer didn’t reach out to enough neighborhood groups to discuss the impacts of traffic and density, as well as some of the community benefits proposed.
Carol Lemlein, from the Santa Monica Conservancy, said the organization wanted to express support of the community benefit related to historic preservation.
“The area surrounding the transit center, particularly the Pico Neighborhood, is significantly underserved with respect to historic preservation,” she said.
However, Maria Loya, from the Pico Neighborhood Association, said the development agreement falls short of providing real community benefits, particularly to young people. She said Santa Monica residents are being asked to live with increased traffic that impacts air quality.
“In terms of affordable housing, there isn’t enough. We feel there should be an increase in extremely low income and a mix of various income levels in affordable housing,” Loya said.
When asked if the developer had reached out to the association to discuss community benefits, Loya said it hadn’t.
But, Metzler said Hines did have a “lively” discussion with Pico Neighborhood representatives and they were “very instrumental” in shaping the project.
“I think I’m personally proud in the record we had in engaging with the community and having 100 meetings,” Metzler said.
Another resident, Mary Marlow, who said the community benefits shouldn’t include anything that is required in the municipal code already, said the developer hadn’t reached out to the Ocean Park Association either.
“I wish they would reach out to us,” Marlow said. “The neighborhood associations would love to be involved.”
Others felt the proposed project was just too big.
Miriam Ginsberg, who lives in Ocean Park, said it may be a lovely project, but it doesn’t belong in Santa Monica since streets are already clogged with cars.
Proponents said the project would help make a “great and humane community” in Santa Monica and called the community benefit for early childhood initiatives “generous.”
Cynthia Rose said the proposed plan brings to life the goals of the Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE, a document that gives broad outlines to the development of Santa Monica through 2030.
“It has exceeded our expectations. In short, I do believe the developer has listened as … the project has been downsized,” Rose said. “I believe this is how we work to mitigate traffic impacts.”
The Planning Commission expects to have its next meeting Sept. 18.