CITY HALL — Bicycle activists and their allies on the Planning Commission and City Council are headed for a high-stakes clash with bio-tech firm Agensys over a proposed bike lane they want incorporated into a proposed office development the company is planning on the east side of town.
Proponents of the idea say it’s crucial that Agensys, a cancer research company that is seeking a development agreement with City Hall to build a 153,000 square-foot complex at 1800 Stewart St., include the bike lane through its project in order to win approval. The lane, they say, would be a vital link in a hoped-for cross-city bike route that would connect the future Bergamot Station light rail stop to Santa Monica High School, the Civic Center and the beach via Michigan Avenue.
Agensys, which is on a tight deadline to win City Hall approval for its project or else move out of Santa Monica, has said there’s no way to incorporate the bike path into the design.
“We made a real good faith effort to try to accommodate a bike path, and it just can’t be feasibly done without putting people in harms way, which I don’t think is anybody’s desire,” said Dale Goldsmith, a land use attorney representing Agensys.
Goldsmith said his client is offering “abundant public benefits” as part of the proposed development agreement including a pedestrian walkway, a small public park, a publicly accessible cafe and a transportation demand management program.
The bike path, he said, would have to either cut through the middle of the property or run through the parking lot. Both scenarios would pose significant collision risks, he said.
A decision on the Agensys project will have to come soon.
A hearing on the development agreement before the Planning Commission was postponed last week, putting Agensys on a strict schedule to complete the deal.
The company, which has several locations in town, is seeking to consolidate its facilities at the Stewart Street site, which is a City Hall-owned parcel currently under lease to the Lionstone Group. Agensys has to complete a deal to sublease the site by Sept. 28 under a contract with Lionstone, Goldsmith said. And in order to sign-off on the sublease, Agensys needs to know whether its development plans will receive the City Council’s approval, he said, adding the deadline is “rock hard.”
A Planning Commission hearing is set for Sept. 1, followed by a first reading before the City Council on Sept. 14 and a required second reading Sept. 28.
The proposed development agreement involves a lease extension from City Hall that would in give Agensys control of the site for 50 years.
Reached last week, David Martin, deputy director of City Hall’s Planning and Community Development department, declined to comment on negotiations about the bike path.
The department is expected to release a report on the status of development agreement talks with Agensys this week.
Some bike activists, including Barbara Filet, a member of the group Spoke, said they’re disappointed with the Planning Department’s work on the Agensys project.
“The city is quite impressed with Agensys as a company,” she said. “It’s like they’re working for Agensys. That is the feeling we get … they’re not working for us. They’re bending over backwards to give Agensys what they want.”
Filet and others who have urged the inclusion of the bike lane, like Parks and Recreation Commissioner Phil Brock, point to the recently adopted Land Use and Circulation Element, which lists increased use of public transportation and bicycles as a means to cut down on traffic congestion, as justification for their position.
“This is the first test of our commitment to active transportation, which the LUCE calls for,” Filet said.
Meanwhile, the Parks and Recreation Commission last Thursday unanimously approved a motion calling on the Planning Commission and City Council to prioritize the bike lane in the Agensys development agreement.
So far, decision makers appear to be split.
Councilman Richard Bloom last week said he’s not convinced the bike path is essential. He said there are alternate routes for a bike path in the area, such as along Olympic Boulevard or possibly through the city’s recycling yards, which are adjacent to the Agensys project site.
Bloom also noted Michigan Avenue hasn’t been formally designated as a bicycle route and called the position taken by the bike activists “an attempt to reverse plan.”
Above all, he said Agensys offers significant benefits to Santa Monica that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“I think it would be horrible if the end result is that Agensys decided to pick up and leave,” he said. “This is an important clean-tech project for the city and we ought to be working with them in a manner that helps keep them here and doesn’t drive them away.”
Councilman Kevin McKeown, though, has indicated he sees the bike lane through the Agensys project as a significant benefit.
“We’re at the beginning of a long-term shift toward bicycles and other
active transportation priorities,” he said. “Part of shaping our future development priorities has to be creating safe bike routes to schools, jobs, and mass transit.”
As officials consider the Agensys development agreement in coming weeks, they’ll also have to consider what may happen to the site if the company decides to abandon the project.
Lionstone already has City Hall approval to move ahead with an entertainment production studio at the site and wouldn’t be required to provide public benefits in-line with what Agensys is proposing if it does so.
“We are very hopeful that the city will realize that this facility, even without a bike path, is a great benefit to the city,” Goldsmith said.