THE SPOT: International real estate developer Hines will go before the City Council for final approval of a development slated for this site on Olympic Boulevard after a Planning Commission OK. (File photo)

THE SPOT: International real estate developer Hines will go before the City Council for final approval of a development slated for this site on Olympic Boulevard after a Planning Commission OK. (File photo)

CITY HALL — Planning commissioners prioritized office space in their recommendation of the Hines commercial and housing development planned for the eastern edge of Santa Monica.

After several close votes on Wednesday night, Hines will go before City Council with its proposal of 472 apartments, 374,434 square feet of creative offices, 15,500 square feet of restaurants, and 13,891 square feet of retail — a total of 737,000.

The commission has been debating the development, proposed for a 7-acre plot of land off of 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard, for several weeks and have made changes to the design of all but one of the five proposed buildings. They’ve also asked for increased community benefits.

The most hotly debated topic Wednesday night was the proportions of retail and office space.

Three commission members — Sue Himmelrich, Richard McKinnon and Chair Jennifer Kennedy — voted against the project as it was recommended. All three attempted to add more housing to the agreement. A jobs and housing imbalance, which they say increases traffic and makes the city unaffordable, was their main concern.

Himmelrich proposed a reduced project with a greater focus on housing. Hines previously said this alternative, which would be 20 percent smaller, was economically infeasible, but Himmelrich and several other suggested this was a bluff. Her attempt failed 3 to 4.

“If we build the project as its contemplated now, without doing more about the traffic, then we are going to create a terrible, terrible nightmare in this city and if we don’t do something about the jobs and housing imbalance we are going to have a nightmare here,” she said.

McKinnon proposed switching one of the five buildings from commercial to residential, reducing the total office space to 235,000 square feet. This also failed 3 to 4.

He said that he has never “really been on board with the project” and fears that all of the surrounding offices will isolate the residents.

Kennedy proposed making the entire project residential, admitting that it was essentially an attempt to get council to consider requesting bids from other developers. It failed 2 to 5.

City officials say there is a shortage of large creative office spaces in Santa Monica, citing the departure of Google and, more recently, international gaming company Riot Games.

The plan includes tens of millions of dollars worth of community benefits to be doled out over the next 50 years.

Commissioners pushed for 69 affordable housing units. Hines has agreed to build 47.

Hines will drop $1.6 million to build streets and sidewalks in the area, including an extension of Nebraska Avenue.

Then they’ll pay more than $8 million toward traffic management associations and another $1.4 million for bikeshare programs during the life of the project, which is defined in the agreement as 55 years.

Early childcare and education programs will get $150,000 every year over the next half century.

“I do feel the proposed package of community benefits and this (Traffic Demand Management) plan is very aggressive and, I think, creates an exciting opportunity for Santa Monica to be a model in helping the Los Angeles region to transform its transportation habits,” said Commissioner Amy Anderson, who voted in favor of the project.

Questions were raised over the possibility that the site is located near an active fault line. The California Geological Survey has not yet determined the precise location or the activity of the fault, city planners said.

Because of this, planners treat a wide swath of land, including the Hines plot, as potentially active and require developers to build accordingly.

When and if Hines does decide to build, they must submit plans that conform with recommendations from a geo-technical report taken of the area.

“If the project doesn’t include those recommendations, we don’t issue a building permit,” said planner Jing Yeo. “It’s as simple as that.”

Hines Managing Director Douglas Metzler thanked the commission early in the night.

“I think this project has evolved quite a bit, even in these most recent meetings,” he said. “It’s been painful from a financial perspective in many ways, but I think it’s a much better project and one that we’re proud of and excited to see move forward.”

The project will go before council early next year for final approval.

 

dave@smdp.com

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