CITY HALL — Santa Monicans are used to seeing developers come before the Planning Commission and ask for the sky, or possibly a tower that scrapes it.
Wednesday night’s meeting, however, showed a sharp role reversal, with the developer at the podium requesting the ability to shrink their own project in response to community opposition.
Greg Ames of Trammell Crow, a Texas-based developer, requested a zoning change for the company’s property at 3402 Pico Blvd., dubbed the Grammys building for a previous tenant, that would sync up with the zoning code changes planned for early next year.
The switch would allow the company to build more parking on the site and fix up the building to make it suitable for office space.
If approved, the developer would drop plans to wipe the buildings out and replace them with a 260-unit apartment complex. That proposal met stiff resistance from residents, scientists and elected officials concerned about the proximity to Interstate 10 and the impact that pollution might have on the health of families living in the complex.
“We would have loved to have had the apartment building,” said Brad Cox, senior managing director with the company. “We thought that was the highest and best use of the property. All that being said, the neighborhood opposed that development, and there was a large group that was opposed.
“We listened, heard and decided to move forward with something else.”
Under the new proposal, the company would be able to expand a surface parking lot by 57 spaces. The current configuration provides parking through an 18-year lease with the California Department of Transportation, but the state agency has the freedom to cancel the agreement on 30 days notice.
“Any business that goes in there has to recognize that in 30 days, they could lose their parking,” Ames said. “No business has been willing to accept that as a business risk.”
Although planning commissioners have an oft-stated aversion to granting new parking, they gave in on this one, approving the request unanimously.
The situation may not be ideal, but compared to apartments 19 feet from the Interstate 10, it was a winner, said Commissioner Richard McKinnon.
“Right from the outset, you knew that the freeway was a killer of the property,” he said Wednesday. “It was almost undevelopable under those conditions. This is a neat way of getting out of a difficult situation.”
Cox still plans to use visibility from the freeway as a selling point to future tenants, and believes that easy access to the freeway will prevent people from using the neighborhood as a shortcut to anywhere.
Neighbors opposed to additional apartments near the site may not be totally out of the woods yet — there’s already a building set back slightly further from the freeway that has 12 apartments.
There’s no application to build housing on that property, Cox said.
If approved by the City Council, the zoning change will mean one less development agreement in a staggering line up that some residents calculate will provide nearly all of the development proposed in the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE.
While the developments have scared residents, some of whom have asked for a moratorium on development until a new zoning ordinance is approved, planning officials took the influx of development agreements with the belief that some would either not be approved or never be built.
At least one, it appears, has gone that way.