CITY HALL — Planning Commissioners voiced concerns Wednesday night on overall project design, architecture, open space and height for a proposed “transit village” near the incoming Bergamot Station Expo Light Rail stop.
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.
Some commission members called the project “blocky masses” or the plaza a “mini L.A. Live” while others felt a proposed plaza functioned fine. The overall design of the project, how the 31,675 square feet of plaza would function as an open space, architecture and height were among the laundry list of issues for the commissioners.
“[I] share that feeling you created a campus here and there is a similarity between these buildings, a blandness,” said Commissioner Richard McKinnon.
The commission also decided to move discussion of the project to the next available meeting date after city officials have a design meeting review with Hines and its architects sometime in the future.
The Bergamot Transit Village Center sits on the site of the former Papermate industrial building at 1681 26th St., and comprises five buildings ranging in height from 60 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.
For open space, the project proposes approximately 2 acres of on-site recreational space divided into a plaza, neighborhood parks and pedestrian pathways.
There was a general feeling among the planning commissioners that the proposed project had no unifying design.
Commissioner Sue Himmelrich said the project was “monotonous.”
The project was designed more as “an office campus and not mixed-use,” said commission Chair Jennifer Kennedy. She, like other commission members, also wanted to see smaller clusters of retail throughout the project.
The commission was expecting a “variation of height, a more elegant building,” said Commissioner Amy Nancy Anderson.
She also had an issue with buildings one and two in the proposed project, saying they needed more creativity in design.
Buildings three and four, however, were what Anderson said she envisioned for the community, adding the architect, Gensler, had done a good job of breaking the site down into smaller blocks and grouping those blocks in an “interesting way.”
When it came to architecture, the commission said the project should set itself apart from everything else.
Commissioner Jason Parry wanted Hines to tap into the “former industrial feel and relate to some way to the [Bergamot Station] Arts Center and using innovative architecture …” in the development.
“[It’s] turning its back, design wise, on the area,” Parry said.
The board also had concerns about open space.
The project, which sits on seven acres, has buildings on three of those acres, said Hines and Gensler officials.
“I know there is discussion whether streets and sidewalks are considered open space,” said Doug Metzler, of Hines. “At the end of the day, there are buildings on three acres. We think it’s a generous offering.”
Li Wen, an architect with Gensler, said there was flexibility about open space.
The proposed plaza was also a source of concern for some on the commission because it felt like a “vast, concrete open space,” Anderson said. The plaza wouldn’t be used except when employees would be crossing it to go to work, she said.
Wen said the plaza would be “activated” with people coming off of the transit station by bike or as pedestrians. He said the plaza, which fronts the future Metro station, is a “reception area for those entering Santa Monica and this is a very important transit stop.”
Commissioners also voiced concerns over how the project had gone up in height when adding wall extensions to some of the buildings.
Metzler, of Hines, said if the commission didn’t like it, at the end of the day, Hines could take it out.
Hines said it had resolved a lot of issues about the project over the years, Metzler said, adding it reflected the developer’s desire to have a conversation and get input from the commission.
It was always the intention to make the site “as porous as possible,” said Wen. The site also had more creative office space in the west that transitioned to more residential in the east as it moves closer to the residential community.
During the meeting, the fiscal consultant for City Hall also submitted results of a “value enhancement” analysis of the proposed project, with no community benefits, which came out to $76.261 million. All community benefits, except the development cost of the new streets, sidewalks, associated landscaping and streetlights, were removed, according to the staff report.
There was some discussion on inaccuracies found in the value enhancement analysis report between commissioners and city officials, most significantly the cost of undergrounding utilities.
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.