The Planning Commission will debate whether Santa Monica homeowners should be allowed to build car elevators in their houses as they look at proposed changes to the zoning code Wednesday night. Multiple residents have been denied their proposals to use mechanical parking systems like stackers and turntables in their single-family houses because it goes against the rules, according to a new report by planning manager Jing Yeo.

“Given the interest in this, we thought it would be a good to have the Planning Commission discuss and provide direction,” Yeo told the Daily Press in an email.

In a mechanical stacker, the driver parks the car on a metal ramp, which can then shuffle vehicles up and down, right and left in a multi-level system that can look like the Hollywood Squares game show. The size and capacity of the structures vary from project to project. Current rules only allow them in businesses and apartment and condominium projects larger than 50 units. The UCLA outpatient facility at 1223 16th Street was the first project to include mechanical parking, although, the system is not up and running at this time. The Pen Factory office building across from the Bergamot Arts Center has also built lifts in the underground parking facility that will double parking capacity, according to Yeo.

City staff recommends city leaders reduce the threshold to allowing the mechanized lifts in apartment buildings as small as 16 units, the point at which state law requires an on-site manager. The city recently rejected proposed mechanical parking for a 23-unit residential project because it was under the current 50-unit threshold.

“Mechanical parking products have become more reliable and less expensive thereby expanding their use to smaller developments,” Yeo said in a staff report. The recommendation is interesting because Mayor Ted Winterer touted the end of parking minimums after the approval of the Downtown Community Plan, arguing available space incentivises car travel over public transportation and adds to traffic congestion.

“Studies show drivers are more open to using public transit, walking or cycling when there’s less access to cheap and easy parking,” Winterer wrote in an op-ed to the Los Angeles Times. Downtown Santa Monica alone has about 10,000 parking spaces already.

Wednesday night is just an initial discussion before the policy issues go before the City Council later this year. The Commission will also consider allowing tandem parking for residential projects up to four units and other exceptions.

“Applicants have also argued that flexibility is needed to allow some tandem parking for multi-unit residential projects, which would provide flexibility to balance both the efficient use of space and ability to unbundle parking,” Yeo said in the report.

The Commissioners will also discuss the minimum 15-foot first-story wall height for new projects, because architects and developers say the standard is difficult to reach on sloped parcels and smaller projects

During the review of the zoning code, commissions will also discuss increasing the maximum allowable size of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to 1,200 square feet, as long as the casita is smaller than the main house.

kate@smdp.com

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