CITY HALL — Low-growth advocates are urging elected officials to hit the breaks on the largest pending development proposal in Santa Monica — the 957,000 square-foot Hines project on Olympic Boulevard at 26th Street — but preliminary work on the mixed-use office and residential complex is moving ahead.
Groups including the Friends of Sunset Park and the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City are leading the charge against the project, arguing it’s impossible to do an adequate assessment of its traffic and other environmental impacts until a master plan for the broader neighborhood is complete.
The work to come up with a plan for the Bergamot Transit Village — which encompasses the east side neighborhood where a number of large-scale office and residential projects are planned and includes the Hines site — is set to begin this month, according to a City Hall report. It’s expected to take most of 2011, if not longer, to complete, which means it will be under discussion at the same time that decision makers are shaping the Hines proposal.
The Bergamot Transit Village area plan, and plans for other parts of the city including the Civic Center and Downtown, are intended to create specific rules for development based on the priorities contained in the recently adopted Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), or general plan update.
“Until [the master plan] is completed, there can be no meaningful review or public comment about the suitability of the Hines project,” SMCLC told its members in an e-mail this week.
Hines, though, has said it intends to finish a draft environmental impact report by summer, with the goal of bringing the document to the City Council for final approval by the end of next year.
The project opponents have the ear of at least one council member in Kevin McKeown, who this week said he has “serious questions about our ability to evaluate the traffic and other impacts of the Hines project appropriately if we try to do so before the master plan gives us a context and some idea of the cumulative impacts.”
But, he added, Hines is within its rights to proceed with a draft EIR if it so chooses. It will be up to the council to decide whether the study the company conducts is up to snuff.
“The council, as the elected body representing the community, will at some point have to decide whether to certify a final EIR as adequate, a finding I personally think will be very difficult if the area master plan is not available yet,” McKeown said.
Hines, however, has reason to be optimistic an eventual council decision will go its way.
The company was the largest donor this campaign cycle to the group Santa Monicans for Quality Government, which backed four of the sitting City Council members in November’s election. The company would have a majority if all four of those members — Pam O’Connor, Bob Holbrook, Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day — vote in Hines’ favor.
Of those members, only Holbrook and O’Day could be reached on Thursday. Both said they understood concerns about the project coming up for review without a certified master plan for the area, but added they believed it’s appropriate that the Hines project move forward.
“I wouldn’t want the cart to proceed the horse,” Holbrook said, “but I think the horse and the cart are coming out of the barn together.”
O’Day said he agreed it’s important the project should be designed according to the priorities that are detailed in the LUCE.
“The reality is that the [development agreement] process is where we’ll have the maximum ability to influence the project in the direction the community wants,” he said.
Calls to Chris Harding, the attorney working on the Hines proposal, and Planning Director Eileen Fogarty were not returned by deadline on Thursday.