CITY HALL — Owners of a massive creative arts and production development on Colorado Avenue breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday night when a diminished City Council voted unanimously to move the project on without a secondary review by the Planning Commission.
Any objections voiced by council members focused on the visual aspects of the project and traffic impacts rather than its merits, but the design of the building hung up the conversation for several hours.
The four council members present seemed close to sending the proposed four-story, 191,982-square-foot project — meant to be the new headquarters for Lionsgate Production company — back to the commission to ensure compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood, which they didn’t feel could be accomplished at the Architectural Review Board, which is the next step in the normal public process.
“I’m uncomfortable sending it on,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Gleam Davis. “My experience on the Planning Commission, serving as the liaison to the ARB, was that although they did address those matters generally, their discussion was the artistic appeal rather than how the building related to the community in which it sat.”
Community members shared similar concerns, complaining that the building, which they saw preliminary drawings of at the meeting, was ugly and out of place.
The development, which would house creative studio space on the upper floors and approximately 6,000 square feet of retail on the bottom of its two buildings, is bounded by two-story residential apartment complexes on Colorado Avenue and is situated next to two other large potential developments — the Roberts Center mixed-use project and the Village Trailer Park.
It’s the first project to come before the City Council formed entirely within the confines of the land use and circulation element of the general plan, a document meant to guide development for the next 20 years.
“We want all projects to be the best they can be, but this is especially important because it’s the first out of the gate for the LUCE,” said Mayor Richard Bloom.
The proposal for the additional hearing came from Planning Commissioner Hank Koning, who introduced the commission’s recommendations at the start of public comment after the developer presented the preliminary design.
“At the Planning Commission hearing, there were only four of us,” Koning said. “We had concerns with the architectural design of the project. We voted to move this forward to you, but we had many conditions to that.”
Those conditions focused on adding street trees to the bare side of Pennsylvania Avenue, adding a community room to a promised cafe and adding facilities for a bike-sharing program that was proposed at a meeting last week.
Finally, Koning requested that the project come back to the Planning Commission to make sure it had the aesthetic qualities the commission was looking for, saying that it wasn’t as exciting a project as it could be.
The requirement, which Councilmember Bob Holbrook estimated could take an extra 30 days, would have made an already lengthy process longer, said Jack Walter, a managing partner of Colorado Creative Studios, which owns the property.
“We have to move (Lionsgate) in no later than May 2015,” Walter said Wednesday. “Every process in Santa Monica takes two or three times more than you hoped it would. Thirty days could turn into 90.”
Walter began the project in 2007 as a replacement for a 54-unit studio apartment complex he and his partners had planned to develop.
Lionsgate approached him about the possibility of building the headquarters there and moving in by summer of 2011, a deadline which has clearly passed.
The new 2015 goal, which marks the end of Lionsgate’s current lease not far from the proposed headquarters, marks the due date.
Continuity between the project and its neighbor, the Roberts Center, had been achieved by employing the same architect, Philip Trigas, but fitting the proposed design into the existing neighborhood with just one viewing by the ARB became the sticking point.
To move the process along, council members tabled the topic until staff could work out language which would empower the ARB to look at transitions into the neighborhood rather than just the beauty of the building in a vacuum.
Council members assented to the compromise, noting that the ARB decision was appealable to the Planning Commission.
That appeals process costs $384.89.
Although neighbors took issue with the look of the building, most public comment focused squarely on one of the two other nearby developments, the Village Trailer Park.
The park has been held in limbo for several years awaiting a development agreement that could end in the eviction of its residents.
Several of those residents came to speak at the meeting, urging council to look at the three projects — Lionsgate, Roberts Center and the trailer park — together as one general area plan, with the goal of preserving the park.
June Griffin, a resident of the park, voiced what seemed to be a shared concern.
“Passing one will probably lead directly to passing all three,” she said.
Davis assured those present that each project would be considered on its merits.