With the future of downtown Santa Monica’s skyline up for debate, development groups, architects and business advocates are pushing for more height and greater density in the Downtown Community Plan (DCP). The City document will dictate development standards, fees and affordable housing requirements for the next two decades.
The plan aims to create a predictable process for new projects to encourage more housing between Interstate 10 and Wilshire Boulevard. The City claims the plan will bring thousands of new apartment units to the downtown area over the next twenty years in an effort to curb the region’s housing crisis.
The plan allows buildings up to 84 feet (approximately seven stories) near the Expo Line but limits much of downtown’s other areas to 60 feet (four or five stories). Current zoning allows buildings up to 84 feet throughout the area.
The Planning Commission will vote on the plan at the end of the month before it heads to the City Council for more debate this summer.
Commissioner Richard McKinnon recently praised the plan for hitting the “sweet spot” between slow-growth activists’ desires and developers’ interests.
“If you’re looking for a very careful, common-sense approach that will give us the horizontal city that we’re looking for and enough substance for people to build, these heights and these (floor area ratios) give it to us,” McKinnon said.
The Chamber of Commerce disagrees. In a letter to the commissioners, the Chamber criticized new height limits throughout the downtown, saying they “appease the most extreme anti-development voices in Santa Monica.”
“The current draft DCP is a housing plan in name only and we believe that if the draft DCP is adopted as is, you will not even get the meager 2,500 unit estimate that staff is proposing,” Carl Lisberger, an attorney with Harding, Larmore, Kutcher and Kozal said at a recent public meeting.
The Chamber argues limiting height and density while increasing fees and affordable housing requirements may actually discourage developers from investing the resources in mixed-use developments.
“Nothing chills the notion of doing a mixed-use development and redeveloping a site than having to negotiate … a development agreement,” Dave Rand, a land use attorney with Armbruster, Goldsmith and Delvac.
The city’s largest affordable housing provider, Community Corporation, also told the Commission the plan should do more to incentivize housing.
“In general, we would like to see a more aggressive housing strategy in the DCP given the severity of the affordable housing crisis,” Community Corp’s executive director Tara Barauskas said.
The plan was developed and released in the wake of Measure LV, a voter-written initiative intended to stop development in Santa Monica by requiring a vote on all projects above two stories. The initiative was defeated, and it’s main proponents have not yet spoken out during the lengthy public comment portions of the Planning Commission’s deliberations. In April, the initiative’s author, Armen Melkonians, told the Daily Press he was happy with the document.
Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi said the height restrictions will prevent a “race to the sky” while still allowing more people to move to Santa Monica. Fonda-Bonardi noted the added the growing population will make the City’s goals of achieving carbon and water neutrality more difficult.
“This is not a sustainable plan, this is a plan heading toward trying to make as much housing as possible, which is a laudable goal,” Fonda-Bonardi said.
The next DCP discussion will be held at 6 p.m. on May 17 in City Hall, 1685 Main St.