BERGAMOT STATION — Planning commissioners praised the consensus and thoughtful ideas elicited from over 100 citizens eager to put in their two cents concerning the future development surrounding the light rail hub at Bergamot Station.
Santa Monica residents chimed in on a variety of topics, including density levels of housing and retail, how to promote and maintain the arts and the kinds of architecture appropriate to the space.
Wednesday’s meeting, held at the Pier 59 art gallery on Michigan Avenue, launched with planners and consultants giving an overview of the guidelines for developing the area as set forth by the Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE.
The emphasis was on the inevitable: Light rail is coming to Santa Monica, giving the city the opportunity to develop a vast amount of land in the area using the framework created through the six-year general plan process.
Primarily, planners look to improve connectivity in the area by chopping up large blocks and buildings using small side roads to reduce the amount of traffic forced onto large, congested streets and encourage pedestrian and bike travel.
The blocks created by the large, industrial buildings are six times as large as those in a comparable area of Downtown.
In exchange for the alterations to buildings, private landowners would get incentives in development agreements allowing them to increase the height of the building based on a formula set out in the plan.
Developers can then build housing and retail that sports a “mix of uses,” meaning that potential residents would have cafes, grocery stores and other amenities immediately available without getting in a car.
That feeds into the LUCE mantra of “no new trips” by 2030, and the envisioned 17-hour-a-day community, meaning that activities would be ongoing from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
This “village” would be further connected by its proximity to Bergamot Station and the light rail line, which is just across Olympic Boulevard from the proposed development.
Jeff Tumlin, a consultant with planning firm Nelson Nygaard, noted that the Bergamot Station area is unique to Santa Monica for its lack of connectivity with retail and large block size.
“Three-quarters of the city is within walking distance of the needs of daily life,” Tumlin said. “Not Bergamot Station.”
He also discussed other ways to connect the site to the rest of the city by cutting down the width of streets and adding bike lanes and working with Big Blue Bus to increase north-south transit routes.
The struggle, Tumlin said, was how to strike a balance between the goals of the plan and the comfort level of the community.
“How much change is appropriate?” he asked.
The crowd then split into a dozen round-table groups to discuss how to fill in the outline provided by staff, consultants and the LUCE.
Jeff Gordon, owner of Writers Bootcamp located in Bergamot Station, said that he wanted to see an emphasis on preserving the artistic culture of the area and increasing access and parking.
“More density means more affordable housing,” Gordon said, “but there’s a distinction between low-income housing and a subsidy for artists.”
Ron Harari, the property manager for one of the affected buildings on the 2700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, said that the tradeoffs for developers could be outweighed by the benefits of increased property value.
“This is great vision,” he said. “The development in the longer term will promote value throughout the area.”
The groups reassembled to present their ideas before the larger audience. In general, participants supported greater connectivity and transit in the area, as well as an emphasis on independently-owned shops and activities during the day.
Many requested childcare as a possible use, as well as parks for people and pets.
More controversial were calls for denser, more affordable housing, and the no-growth option, but the distinctions were not widely discussed.
By 9:30 p.m., the meeting wrapped up after final comments from the commissioners.
The meeting was productive, said Senior Planner Peter James.
“It was positive. People left feeling excited, knowing that they had a role helping shape the future,” James said. “They focused on the important things, like making a complete place.”
The Planning Department is still accepting comments on the plan. Those who wish to send in thoughts and opinions may do so by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.