One of Santa Monica’s most important meetings of the year will take place Wednesday evening. The Planning Commission will review proposed changes to the zoning ordinance to bring it more in line with the revised Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE.)
This is where the pedal hits the metal as this meeting will deal with zoning changes for commercial properties along Santa Monica’s major boulevards.
Proposals for increased heights, densities, building mass and shape will be on the table as well as permitted uses, parking requirements, number of bedrooms in mixed use commercial/residential buildings and other conditions that will have major impacts on both multifamily and single family-adjacent residential neighborhoods.
In a nutshell, overall increases in height and density are being recommended and they, along with other parameters, may vary from street to street or from one part of town to another.
Along Lincoln Boulevard, for example, new zoning would allow a doubling of density (floor area ratio) for new construction that contains affordable housing. Imagine what that’ll do for traffic!
Developers want to be able to build higher and denser for greater profitability in exchange for community benefits such as environmentally friendly construction, extra units of low income and workforce (or so-called affordable) housing, contributions for childcare services, transportation impact fees and more.
The question is: Do these community benefits offset a project’s impact on our quality of life? For example, because updated zoning may reduce parking requirements or eliminate it all together, new developments along main thoroughfares could exacerbate parking problems in adjoining neighborhoods.
One issue that needs to be cleared up is the designation of residential “A” lots documented in the LUCE as commercial properties.
Over the years, residential lots adjacent to or directly behind commercial properties were bought up, their housing was removed and replaced by parking for adjoining businesses. The current codes require that if the use on the lot changes or when new construction occurs, an “A” lot must revert back to residential use or become parkland.
When board members of the Northeast Neighbors neighborhood group were researching the development agreement applied for by Century West Partners, the developer of 3032 Wilshire Blvd. at Berkeley Street, they discovered plans for a massive 100-unit, five floor, mixed-use development to be built in part on an “A” lot now used by Bank of America for parking.
They were stunned to find that this and other “A” lots citywide were labeled as commercial properties on LUCE maps. City Hall leaders, including City Manager Rod Gould, said it was a mistake that would be corrected. In the meantime, there’s been no explanation as to how the properties were mislabeled to begin with. And, the fun and games don’t just end at Wilshire and Berkeley.
Despite the city manager’s promise that all would be made right, it turns out that city planners are proposing a special “A” lot deal for auto dealerships by allowing them to expand their facilities and build subterranean parking under the lots behind their showrooms.
Whether by accident or a calculated dirty trick, the designation of residential “A” lots as commercial is a gross violation of LUCE’s promise to conserve neighborhoods. However, it’s a huge benefit to growing car dealerships and other developers who want to build massive, overly large developments that directly encroach on adjacent residential homes and families.
Such unexplained errors favoring developers have refueled charges of dupery and accusations of developer-friendly/anti-resident shenanigans by City Hall planners throughout the LUCE process.
Residents also aren’t pleased about the raising of public review thresholds for projects proposed, citywide. City staff recently reduced many thresholds for what can be built by right, without public input and with approval by administrators behind closed doors.
On Montana Avenue, a proposed 10,000-square-foot threshold in the updated zoning has been scaled back to 5,000 square feet. This will still result in larger, out of scale structures and businesses — and substantial acceleration of commercial activity.
Coupled with a proposed reduction in on-site parking that will allow restaurants to provide two-thirds less than is currently required, the code changes will lead to massive parking and traffic problems on nearby residential blocks already experiencing severe traffic congestion and critical parking shortages.
Allowing larger and denser development on major streets while making it more difficult for the public to be involved is just not acceptable. In Montana Avenue’s case, it could turn it into a hot, trendy destination street such as Main Street with horrendous unattended effects for neighbors.
The same is true for the eastern half of Wilshire Boulevard where current zoning imposes a review threshold of 7,500 square feet. Any project above that must be approved by the Planning Commission.
The newly proposed codes call for the threshold to balloon up to 20,000 square feet. This cannot be allowed if adjacent residential neighborhoods are to be protected and only administrative hearings are required for new neighborhood adjacent commercial developments.
Stricter limitations on the size of everything from day care centers and general markets, to medical and dental clinics and car dealerships must be implemented in the new codes.
It’s important for residents speak up. Go to City Hall Wednesday at 6 p.m. or write, call or e-mail the commission. Tell them to hold the line on larger developments and to preserve neighborhoods for the residents.
You can e-mail the following commissioners and staff members at: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@Gmail.com.