While the Land Use & Circulation Element (LUCE) promises preservation of neighborhoods, certain residential lots that buffer neighborhoods are now threatened. They’re called “A” lots.
If you look at a zoning map of Santa Monica you’ll notice notations of R1, R2, R3, R4 and R1-A through R4-A. The “R” stands for residential. The numbers indicate the height and density allowed in that zone.
So what does the “A” stand for? Actually, it’s a parking district overlay. It indicates a surface parking lot used by a commercial business located on a boulevard. A-lots are located all over Santa Monica. Some you might recognize are the parking lots behind Whole Foods on Montana Avenue, behind Bristol Farms at Berkeley and Wilshire, behind Starbucks at 15th and Montana, and behind Vons at 14th and Wilshire.
The “A” indicates that the lot is used for surface parking, but is still zoned as residential. Here’s what the Santa Monica Municipal Code says about “A” lots:
“9.04.08.38.010 Purpose: The A Overlay District is intended to provide adequate parking facilities to support important commercial corridors and neighborhood commercial areas in the City, while assuring that each facility will not adversely impact the environment of nearby residents or diminish the integrity of the subject residential zoning district. . . . Any parcel classified as ‘A’ shall also be classified in one of the Residential Districts.
“9.04.08.38.070. Property development standards for non-parking uses. All non-parking uses developed on property in the A Overlay District shall be developed in accordance with the same property development standards required for the underlying residential district.”
In other words, if an R2-A lot is no longer used for parking, it must be developed by the same development standards as a residential R2 lot for height and density. These lots were intended to be buffers between commercial and residential zones and have a history of being used in that way for many years.
When Century West Partners filed for a development agreement on the property at 3032 Wilshire Blvd., members of Northeast Neighbors filed a public records request. Going over the file they discovered that the development agreement covered two different lots; one at 3032 Wilshire that is zoned commercial and another at 1210 Berkeley St., which is zoned residential. The latter was an A-lot; the parking lot behind and around Bank of America. It was subject to development under the underlying residential zoning, which limits development to two stories and about 23 feet in height. However, the developer is proposing to build to commercial development standards — five stories and 60 feet high, three stories higher than current zoning permits.
Century West Partners recently held a public meeting to present their project to the public. More than 200 concerned residents attended, including representatives from four neighborhood associations: Northeast Neighbors, NOMA (the North of Montana Association), Wilmont (the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition) and Santa Monica Mid-City Neighbors. With the exception of two attendees, all had concerns about the proposal.
Residents feel strongly that the development of the Berkeley lot behind the Bank of America building should be no more than two stories to maintain this important buffer and transition to the rest of the residential neighborhood.
What does the LUCE say? The executive summary of the LUCE, in a highlighted box headlined, “What the Community Said Is Important,” states the following:
“During this process, the community expressed its vision for a City in which the best of the past is not only preserved but enhanced for current and future generations. The community’s core values form the basis of the LUCE. The community identified the following core values:
“1. Preserve Existing neighborhoods. The highest priority of the community was the preservation of the existing character and scale of Santa Monica’s neighborhoods.”
On page 12-5 under the heading “Preserve Neighborhoods and City Values,” the LUCE states:
“Participants identified neighborhood preservation as the highest priority of the planning process. They were concerned about the gradual loss of neighborhood character and open space as existing buildings are torn down and replaced with new infill development that is larger and out of scale with its surroundings. They endorsed the principles of maintaining the scale and character of existing buildings, requiring new buildings to be well designed and compatible with the established neighborhood context, encouraging greener landscaped streets, creating more open space … .”
You can read this section of the LUCE for yourself if you go to the city website, www.smgov.net. In the upper right corner is a search box where you can key in “LUCE.” The link to the document will come up. Open it and under “Resources” in the right top corner you’ll find the document, which you can download. Then look for “Neighborhood Preservation.”
Residents throughout the city feel strongly that these residential buffer lots should not be re-zoned or developed to commercial standards. To do so would be a betrayal of the LUCE promise to residents.
We’ve been advised recently by planning staff that the LUCE map changed the designation of some of these A-lots from a parking overlay over a residential zone to “mixed-use boulevard” (whatever that means), contrary to what residents expected and were promised by the LUCE. Nobody remembers this ever being discussed at the Planning Commission or City Council. Consequently, there is considerable consternation on the part of many residents over this recent discovery.
We’re told that the topic of A-lots will be included in the zoning ordinance discussion at both the Planning Commission and City Council.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown said the zoning code discussion will be a multi-meeting event at both the Planning Commission and the City Council, so you should have several opportunities to express your concern. This discussion about zoning is expected to take place in early spring or before.
Ellen Brennan, retired stockbroker and former member and chair of the Pier Restoration Corp. board, wrote this column. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org