VIRGINIA AVENUE PARK — Santa Monica residents got an opportunity to comment on the largest development project currently proposed within the city limits on Wednesday, and most who attended the meeting held at Virginia Avenue Park used it as a chance to vent.
While the meeting was technically called to help guide analysts’ who will work on the project’s environmental review, speakers hammered home their concerns that the project, proposed by Texas-based developer Hines, would worsen traffic and erode the quality of life for locals.
Known as the Bergamot Transit Village, it would add nearly 1 million square feet of office, residential and retail space at Olympic Boulevard between 26th and Stewart streets, just north of the Bergamot Arts Center and the future site of an Expo light rail stop.
A vacant factory formerly operated by Paper Mate would be demolished to make room for the development.
At the meeting Wednesday night, a frequently repeated concern was that the project is just one of about 10 other development proposals on the east side of Santa Monica and in nearby West Los Angeles that together could have drastic impacts.
“It seems that everything is cascading right now with all of the projects that are proposed,” said Pico Neighborhood resident Steve Kandell. “I can’t even imagine what it will be like if these projects are built. You might as well just bunker down and grow your own food because it’s just going to be impossible to get around the neighborhood.”
The Hines project would add 1,961 new parking spaces — a prospect many attendees said would lead to more traffic in an area already known for gridlock. Several speakers said the parking allotment should be greatly scaled back in order to encourage employees and residents of the proposed development to use alternate modes of transportation.
“If you want less traffic, you have to have less parking spaces,” said Barbara Filet, a Santa Monica resident and a member of the group Spoke, which advocates for improvements to bicycle infrastructure.
The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will include analysis of two project concepts, one that envisions 556,573 square feet of creative arts office space with 344 residential units, and another that envisions 420,919 square feet of office space with 488 residential units.
The sheer scale of the project, which could be as tall as 81 feet, was the major concern for several speakers.
“We have to get together and stop these things,” said Howard Meibach. “This city has been taken over by developers.”
A call to the attorney representing Hines, Chris Harding, was not returned by deadline on Thursday.
Jing Yeo, the City Hall planner handling the Hines project, pointed out the project design is in flux and could be significantly revised by the time it comes before the Planning Commission and City Council late next year for final approval.
But she said City Hall is not satisfied with the initial plans.
“It’s not meeting, I think, the expectations of what people had anticipated when the vision was developed for the LUCE,” she said, referencing the recently adopted general plan update known as the Land Use and Circulation Element.
But despite the nearly 2,000 parking spots included in the early-stage plans for the project, Yeo said it’s possible the proposal could be in-line with City Hall’s goal that new developments create no net new car trips, because of an aggressive transportation demand management program.
Yeo said the EIR will include an analysis of impacts in context of other planned projects nearby.
City Hall has already approved one office project in the vicinity of the Hines project, an office complex on city land for bio-tech firm Agensys. Other proposals include the Paseo Nebraska mixed-use project, the New Roads School expansion, the Colorado Creative Studio Project, the Roberts Business Center and a plan to replace the Village Trailer Park with a mixed-use development.
The EIR on the Hines proposal is scheduled to be released by summer.