CITY HALL —  Developers may be faced with another fee on projects in Santa Monica, this time to pay for future parks that many believe will be necessary to support new people attracted by the apartments, shops and offices coming online.

As proposed, the fee would tack $7,636 onto the cost of a single family home. Studios and one bedrooms would cost an additional $4,138 per unit, and apartments with two or more bedrooms would cost $6,665.

Office, hospital, retail, hotel and industrial construction range from a low of $1.27 (hospitals) per square foot to $3.11 (hotels), while “institutional uses” like schools and churches would be excluded.

The proposal includes only 25 percent of the $126 million that consultants estimate would be needed to pay for the park space for the life of the Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE, a document that gives broad outlines to the development of Santa Monica through 2030, said Karen Ginsberg, director of the Community & Cultural Services Department.

That figure includes facility improvements, land acquisition and a 2 percent administrative fee for taking care of the funds and planning related improvements.

The scaled down amount is based on the fees charged by comparable cities and other policy considerations, Ginsberg said.

The fee would replace two existing charges, a $200 residential unit tax established in 1973 and another ordinance that assesses an in-lieu fee for general office space, a type of construction that has not seen much advancement in recent years.

State law dictates that the money accrued could only be used on new park space rather than maintenance of existing facilities.

The Recreation and Parks Commission signed off on the measure unanimously Thursday night, one of the first stops on a tour of various community groups and commissions that will ultimately end with the City Council.

As a city of renters where 70 percent of the population lacks the benefit of even a front yard, a charge like this one is critical to maintaining a good quality of life for Santa Monicans at relatively little cost to developers who have to contend with similar fees in other cities like Beverly Hills and Glendale, said Commissioner Phil Brock.

“We’ve been very concerned about the lack of money for green space,” Brock said.

Others have raised concerns about the fee, specifically that yet another assessment could diminish the amount of community benefits available for larger projects, particularly in light of an affordable housing fee that is working its way through the public process simultaneously.

“There’s only so much blood that can be drawn from stone,” said Dave Rand, an attorney with land use firm Armbruster Goldsmith and Delvac.

Once Santa Monica’s new zoning ordinance is approved, developments will fall into three categories called “tiers.” Current thinking at City Hall puts the first and second tiers as set processes, with the second tier involving a list of possible community benefits to trade for the additional height and density.

A “tier three” project involves negotiation with City Hall for even greater heights and densities.

If more fees get put on the baseline, it lessens the pot for additional benefits, Rand said.

An analysis by financial firm HR&A Advisors shows that the two new fees — affordable housing and parks — could account for between 1.2 and 2.1 percent of the total development in six model scenarios, depending on where in Santa Monica the development is located.

It estimated that the resulting return set against total costs would render projects “barely” feasible in one area of Downtown, but that other scenarios were safely above that threshold.

Still, the money is needed and even the increased fee would fall in the middle of similar charges by other cities in California, Brock said.

The matter is expected to come to the City Council in September. If approved, the question will change from how to pay for parks to where parks are feasible in the largely built-out city.

That will be a challenge, Ginsberg said.

“I would say we have to be opportunistic in terms of finding land, and in order to be opportunistic, you need resources to pay for it,” she said.

There may be tier three projects that provide opportunities for green space, and even city-owed sites like the old lumber yard near Memorial Park could be fixed up with the new funds, Ginsberg said.

Brock has his eye on pocket parks, small spaces throughout Santa Monica that can be transformed into green public spaces.

 

ashley@smdp.com

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