CITY HALL — Developers hoping to build projects that go above and beyond City Hall’s zoning rules could have to put their plans on hold under a proposal set to come before the City Council next week.
The proposal by Councilman Kevin McKeown would postpone hearings on all projects seeking development agreements with City Hall for several months while planners continue work on an update to the general plan known as the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE). The LUCE will set firm limits on building size and is expected to be adopted by the City Council by this summer.
McKeown’s proposal wouldn’t affect the planning process for all projects in the pipeline but would cause delays for the largest-scale developments that are seeking approval.
Development agreements are specialized contracts that can allow developers to exceed limits on building size and density in exchange for providing community benefits like affordable housing and public open space.
Under McKeown’s proposal, City Hall would still be permitted to process development agreement applications but planners’ priority would be to finalize the LUCE.
In an e-mail, McKeown said development agreements “have absorbed tremendous amounts of staff and [Planning] Commission time, diverting resources from needed work on the LUCE.”
At least five projects proposed for the eastern section of Santa Monica known as the Light Manufacturing and Studio District have pending applications for development agreements.
“It is difficult to assess the cumulative impacts of so many development agreements when we don’t yet have a master plan, which the LUCE will provide,” McKeown said, noting that the projects proposed under the agreements “have often exceeded even the upper range of entitlements contemplated under the LUCE.”
He said having a slew of large projects before the Planning Commission and City Council makes it harder for leaders and community members to reach a consensus on what the true size limits on development projects should be.
McKeown’s proposal comes after community groups opposed to large-scale developments have for years suggested similar ideas and after planning commissioners discussed such a “time-out’ for development agreements at a meeting this month.
Zina Josephs, of the group Friends of Sunset Park, said her organization first asked City Hall officials to delay approving new development agreements until the LUCE was approved a couple of years ago.
“Now that the city is being inundated with proposals for such agreements, I hope the council will take action to do that,” she said.
Councilman Bob Holbrook, though, questioned whether postponing development agreement approvals would benefit the city.
He said development agreements give City Hall a clearer picture of what developers are proposing and allow the council to extract needed community benefits. And adding delays to City Hall’s approval process, he said, can be costly.
“Once people have decided to develop a piece of property, stopping somewhere along the line can only hurt them,” he said.
He also said there’s no great risk the council would approve outsized development projects, regardless of whether hearings on the projects take place before or after the LUCE is adopted.
“I think this council is pretty conservative” when it comes to development, he said.