CITY HALL — A proposal to build two affordable senior group housing projects along the I-10 Freeway is stirring neighbors who believe the developments are not only out of scale but don’t fit in with zoning standards for the area.
A group of those residents, calling themselves the Pico Euclid Neighborhood Coalition, appeared before the Planning Commission on Wednesday to appeal the Architectural Review Board’s earlier approval of the aesthetics and design for the pair of projects at 1924-30 Euclid St., and 1753 18th St., complaining that the two proposals are inappropriately dense and should have required review by the commission rather than being “fast-tracked” through the city administrative process.
The commission denied both appeals, ruling that the projects were appropriately scaled and confident that some of the operational issues raised by neighbors would be addressed during the staff plan check process.
The developer, Squier Properties and FAME Santa Monica Senior Apartments LP, are proposing to build a three-story, 100 percent affordable senior group housing home at 1924-30 Euclid that will have a common kitchen, recreational facilities, courtyard and 24 living quarters that will come with full bathrooms and small efficiency kitchens. The proposal on 18th Street is similar but with 18 individual rooms.
The main issue for neighbors concerns the central kitchen, which they believe is inadequate and ill-equipped to service the dining needs of residents and therefore would technically not categorize it as senior group housing. The zoning code defines senior group housing as a building that has a central kitchen and dining facilities with separate bedrooms or private living quarters. Such projects also have no maximum number of dwelling units.
Linas Baskauskas, one of the appellants, said that the project should instead be defined as senior apartments, which he believes would limit the density in the R2 Zone in which it’s located to just seven units, substantially lowering the scale of the building.
“The biggest problem I think is the scale and size of this structure just totally overpowers the neighborhood,” he said. “Every neighborhood has a tipping point. This project will contribute to the tipping point of this neighborhood.”
He also contended that the project should not have been allowed to go through the expedited review process in which it would require only approval from the Architectural Review Board for design purposes. During expedited review, projects still go through the plan check process with city staff.
Barry Rosenbaum, the deputy city attorney, said the city code states that affordable housing projects are not subject to developmental review. Since senior group housing is a permitted use in the zone, the combination of the two factors allowed the project to be reviewed ministerially.
He said the project will have to be deed restricted as affordable housing and meet the description of senior group housing.
“If it turns out upon that review the common kitchen and dining area are inadequate and modification is required and will result in a change in design such that the project design you approved is no longer … then it will be required to come back to this body,” Rosenbaum said.
Gary Squier, of Squier Properties, said the communal dining areas will be for group activities, individual uses and structured uses in which meals will be available on a regular basis. He said it will be managed by a third party or in-house.
He added that the small kitchenettes will be functional.
“The concept we had here is one of flexibility and choice and that’s what we’re providing,” he said.
Because the Planning Commission was hearing an appeal to a decision by the Architectural Review Board, its scope was limited to matters concerning the design of the building and not operational issues.
“There are a number of fliers distributed in the neighborhood,” Ken Kutcher, the attorney representing the developer, said. “The fliers are about density, they were not about a void and ugly building.
“My role tonight is to talk to you about the limits on your discretion.”
He added that the project is allowed by-right.
Opponents to the project stressed that they are not against senior housing but are rather concerned with the size proposed. They also expressed concerns of how the central kitchen as proposed would impact senior citizens.
“It is a fortress,” Nancy Dougluss, who lives across from the proposed project on Euclid Street, said. “All of the papers I saw said it has to fit in with the neighborhood … this does not fit in with my neighborhood.”
Commissioners said they felt comfortable with the design of the projects, saying they don’t believe they look box-like.
Commissioner Gerda Paumgarten Newbold responded to questions from neighbors about whether they would want to live in such a project, noting that many people would like to live in Santa Monica and pay a relatively nominal $400 a month for rent.
“This place is going to fill up,” she said. “There is a need for this kind of housing and I’m glad we’re seeing some of it.”