CITY HALL — City Council members overturned a decision by the Planning Commission Tuesday and approved on appeal a permit that will allow city staff to overhaul Parking Structure 6 on Second Street.

The project would convert the now 342-space parking structure to a 748-space facility with subterranean parking for cars, 90 bicycle parking spaces and a variety of enhancements including rooftop solar cells.

The structure will also have space for Farmers’ Market supplies as well as office space for the ambassadors that help tourists and locals in Downtown. The Santa Monica Police Department substation will no longer be housed there.

The project gained urgency when it became clear that Parking Structure 3, on Fourth Street, would be demolished to make way for the AMC Theater project, eliminating 339 spaces from Downtown’s already stressed parking supply.

Getting the project underway will also make the coming series of parking projects in the area go more smoothly, said Elizabeth Bar-El, a senior planner with City Hall, at the meeting.

“This fits into the overall phasing of projects,” Bar-El said. “It’s the first project to support the phasing of other Downtown and Civic Center parking projects. This particular project was prioritized to support the interim parking program and reduce overlap with the proposed demolition of Parking Structure 3.”

Community members, particularly business owners and their representatives, said they hope to see the structure revamped completely before a second parking structure is taken off-line.

“A parking shortage already exists, we hear it every day from our customers,” said Peggy Malloy, who manages the women’s clothing store Babette. “Given the existing parking shortage, Parking Structure 6 has to be open prior to the closure of Parking Structure 3. It would be an unbearable burden on the business community, and the public.”

City officials believe construction of the structure will take at least 18 months. City staff did not provide a timeline for completion at the council meeting.

At its March 2 meeting, planning commissioners denied the project on the basis that it concentrated too much parking in the south end of Santa Monica, didn’t effectively manage ins and outs and forced drivers through a loop down Fourth Street to get to the 10 Freeway.

Aesthetics also played a role. Commissioners complained that for a building with four sides, only one of them was appropriately engaging to fit the criteria established by the newly adopted land use and circulation element, or LUCE.

The back side, which faces the Third Street Promenade, is described in the staff report as a “simple expression of structure,” which didn’t cut it with council members.

Staff addressed some of those concerns, promising art along the upper elevation that can be seen from the promenade and changing the configuration of the structure to include one entry lane and two exit lanes, rather than the other way around.

Planning Commissioner Jim Ries recapped the board’s findings for City Council members during public comment.

Council member Bobby Shriver asked him if there were any issues he still had that hadn’t been changed since the March 2 presentation.

“Less parking in that structure and more evenly dispersed parking is the main thing we haven’t seen addressed,” Ries said. “I’d like to see egress lanes out through the alley, and let’s see the design on the back.”

Council members shared many of the same concerns Ries expressed, as well as focusing on the overall size and density of the project, which totals 11.5 floors and has a very high floor area ratio, or FAR.

FAR compares how much floor space a project has to how large of a plot of land the building is built on.

“Eight to one is too much to me,” Shriver said, “and we should see the art design, I think that’s a fair point.”

He also criticized how original plans could have included only one exit lane from the structure.

“To get to the Planning Commission to get the suggestion that there should be two exit lanes out of such an enormous structure makes me wonder how much thinking went into this structure,” Shriver said.

Miriam Mulder, an architectural services manager at City Hall, spoke in defense of the project.

Parking structures are excluded from the traditional density requirements, she told council members. As for art, the Cultural Affairs Division will hold a competition for artists to address the back elevation.

In the end, the need proved more powerful than either the look or feel.

“We just need more parking,” Councilmember Bob Holbrook said.

The motion passed six to one, with Shriver against.

ashley@smdp.com