CITY HALL — The biggest of seven developments proposed for the industrial section of Santa Monica’s east side came in for a round of criticism from the Planning Commission Wednesday night, but will head to the City Council to seek preliminary approval.
The proposal by developer Hines envisions a nearly 1 million square-foot office and residential project near the future site of a light rail stop at Bergamot Station. The design concept calls for a five-story structure that would replace an existing 200,000-square-foot light manufacturing facility that is currently vacant.
The project would be larger than allowed under the city’s draft Land Use Circulation Element (LUCE) and so will require approval from the City Council before a deal can be struck.
Colin Shepherd, a senior vice president with Hines, said the project would be a maximum 81-feet tall at its highest point, with an average height of 71 feet. Under the draft LUCE, projects in that area are required to be a maximum of 75-feet tall with an average height of 65 feet.
In order to win size exemptions from City Hall, the developer is proposing to offer “community benefits” such as affordable housing, public open spaces and cultural and arts uses.
Jing Yeo, special projects manager in City Hall’s Planning and Community Development Department, said the scale of the proposal means City Hall has leverage to ask for a range of benefits before recommending approval.
“We really should be able to get some fairly meaningful and significant community benefits,” she said. “On a project of this size you could probably get benefits across that whole spectrum.”
In a meeting that went past midnight, planning commissioners on Wednesday urged the developer to scale down the project and devote a greater percentage of square-footage to housing, but didn’t attempt to delay or derail the proposal.
“It’s a beautiful concept for an area that needs improvement, but the proposed building needs to be reduced in size by at least one third,” said Planning Commissioner Jay Johnson.
The project design imagines a complex that is 60 percent office space and 40 percent housing units, a mix that Shepherd said is fitting for a site located across the street from a proposed mass transit station. Placing job sites at transit hubs can reduce vehicle trips, he said.
Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer, though, said he sees the high percentage of office space in the project a significant drawback.
“I’m of the mind that we have a serious jobs/housing imbalance in this town,” he said. “We probably need more neighborhood retail than job centers.”
He also said it would be more productive to review the project concept after the City Council approves the LUCE, since that document could alter City Hall’s priorities for the east side of town.
Johnson said the commission agreed it would be helpful to assess the project’s impacts in light of several other large-scale developments proposed for the east side of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. He argued the developers interested in building in the vicinity should chip in money so that the Planning Commission can oversee an independent assessment of the projects’ net impacts.
Shepherd said he was pleased no commissioner objected to his project continuing to the City Council and said he plans on asking for more time before presenting the concept to the council in order to analyze the commissioners’ comments.
He said he hopes to present the proposal to the council by the end of April. If the concept earns approval, Hines expects to spend the next year creating a detailed design and conducting an environmental review.