061213_Room for a view mapWe are in the cut and thrust of looking at our Downtown, how it works, what it means and how it defines us as a city. It is our identity, who we are.

This is a big load to carry.

We spent six years with the LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element) update, an intrinsic part of every California city’s General Plan, which is administrative, but also identifies us as a unique community and city. It helps give us our character.

So what did we achieve with the LUCE? In short, it was consensus. This was a consensus forged with residents, both long term and short, with renters and homeowners. It also had the buy-in from the business community and from City Hall, those that give us our daily services and those that put us on the world map as one of the “it” places. How do we preserve who we are, as individuals and as part of a complex and diverse community?

The LUCE addressed this by preserving our neighborhoods, those who rent, those who own, whether long term or new to the community. Ninety-six percent of our community will remain as it is.

Santa Monica is an especially blessed city, a place with wonderful weather and an urban fabric that promotes and sustains our community. It takes a complete community to make this happen, one where there is a vibrant economic base. The LUCE addressed preserving our identity, creating a sustainable community environmentally, socially and economically, and recognized the necessity of evolution in a changing world.

Our Downtown is elemental in making this happen. The Downtown core, the commercial boulevards and the Bergamot area comprise the other 4 percent. These are the areas that were seen as appropriate for development. The vision of LUCE asserts that these mixed-use areas, well served by transit and services, allow for the creation of complete communities that provide residents with their daily needs within their immediate neighborhood and for an increase in population without a corresponding increase in traffic.

Our Downtown core is approximately one fourth of the 4 percent area, or about 1 percent of Santa Monica’s land area. Of that 1 percent, more than 50 percent is already built and makes no sense to redevelop. So, in essence, the Downtown Specific Plan (DTSP) will impact less than one half of 1 percent of the city’s land area. This is a crucial half percent as Downtown is the vital economic engine for the city.

The LUCE did not provide development parameters in the Downtown core, but rather required that a specific plan be prepared. This was done so that further analysis could be undertaken to determine what would be appropriate in the DTSP. It will only apply to Downtown and will not spread into other areas of the city. However, the LUCE was not silent on what the nature of development in Downtown should be.

“The Downtown core designation allows for the broadest mix of uses and the highest intensity development.” (LUCE  2.1-48).

At the time that the LUCE was being finalized, City Hall was concerned that until the DTSP was adopted developers would be able to build projects per the previous zoning regulations. This would not allow the city to get the types of community benefits that the LUCE called for projects to provide, such as a mix of unit types, affordable housing, wider sidewalks, plazas and more sustainable design. To address this concern, the City Council approved an interim ordinance that required all projects over 32 feet in height to go through a development agreement (DA) approval process.

This requirement unleashed a huge increase in DA applications. Many of these are rather small projects that would have previously been approved under an administrative approval or a development review process. These are much simpler approval processes than for larger projects and do not require City Council action. This is why there are currently over 30 DAs currently in process in the city compared with only 12 from 1981 through 2007.

Let’s compare these current DA’s to the development agreements of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Colorado Place          1,811,000 square feet

The Arboretum   1,000,000 square feet

The Water Garden 1,260,000 square feet

 

Compare those to some current applications:

501 Broadway   51,000 square feet

1318 Second Street 15,000 square feet

The Hampton Inn 78,750 square feet

The Marriot Courtyard 78,750 square feet

 

Certainly some are larger projects:

East Village  341,000 square feet

710 Wilshire 149,507 net new square feet

The Gehry-designed Hotel      195,000 square feet

 

So although there are a lot of DAs, they are typically small compared to those earlier projects.

It may seem as if our city is being overwhelmed with construction, and there is no doubt that much is happening. However, the most significant construction is infrastructure such as the Expo Line and Tongva Park, and the City Hall-sponsored Village housing project in the Civic Center (which was used by the City Council to significantly increase affordable housing).

It is important that as the DTSP process moves forward that community members understand the area that is included, the goals of the LUCE, and participate in an open and civil manner in developing a plan that accommodates the needs of the city and does so in a way that is as sustainable environmentally and as economically vibrant as possible so that it contributes to the wellbeing of all Santa Monicans. This should be the area of greatest diversity, economic activity and density. Let’s pass a Downtown Specific Plan that does this.

 

The authors live, work and have diverse architectural and consulting practices that include Santa Monica construction projects.

They are:

• Michael W. Folonis, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Michael W. Folonis Architects, former Architectural Review Board member, currently director of the Los Angeles AIA Board, board member of Santa Monica Conservancy, 41-year Santa Monica resident.

• Gwynne Pugh, FAIA, architect and engineer, LEED AP, principal of Santa Monica firm Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Inc., former chair of the Planning Commission, currently director of the Los Angeles AIA Board, 37-year Santa Monica resident.

• Linda Jassim, writer and editor, landscape designer. Principal of Santa Monica firm Studio J, former chair and current member of the Santa Monica Arts Commission, 37-year Santa Monica resident.

• John Zinner, sustainability and green building consultant, LEED fellow, principal at Zinner Consultants, former Planning and Housing commissioner, currently vice president of Santa Monica Conservancy, 35-year Santa Monica resident.

• Hank Koning, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Koning Eizenberg Architecture, LEED AP, former chair of the Planning Commission, 32-year Santa Monica Resident.

• Michael W. Folonis, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Michael W. Folonis Architects, former Architectural Review Board member, currently director of the Los Angeles AIA Board, board member of Santa Monica Conservancy, 41-year Santa Monica resident.

• Gwynne Pugh, FAIA, architect and engineer, LEED AP, principal of Santa Monica firm Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Inc., former chair of the Planning Commission, currently director of the Los Angeles AIA Board, 37-year Santa Monica resident.

• Linda Jassim, writer and editor, landscape designer. Principal of Santa Monica firm Studio J, former chair and current member of the Santa Monica Arts Commission, 37-year Santa Monica resident.

• John Zinner, sustainability and green building consultant, LEED fellow, principal at Zinner Consultants, former Planning and Housing commissioner, currently vice president of Santa Monica Conservancy, 35-year Santa Monica resident.

• Hank Koning, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Koning Eizenberg Architecture, LEED AP, former chair of the Planning Commission, 32-year Santa Monica Resident.

- See more at: http://smdp.com/providing-clarity-on-land-use-issues/123020#sthash.pRalTAnP.dpuf

 

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