A proposed condo complex at Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard is being opposed by residents who are concerned about its impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

CITY HALL — Residents who are attempting to stop a controversial condominium project from being built on Ocean Avenue, just steps from picturesque Palisades Park, were thwarted earlier this week when the City Council denied an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision giving the Dallas-based developer permission to move forward.

The council voted 6-0, with a visibly upset Kevin McKeown abstaining, to deny the appeal. The residents, many of them former tenants of the 47-unit apartment complex slated for demolition, claimed the condo’s Spanish Colonial revival design was out of character for the neighborhood, which is comprised of garden-style apartments. The residents also said the project has significant social and economic impacts because it would result in the loss of affordable rental units.

Those rental units would be replaced by 15 luxury condos with a price tag estimated well over $1 million each. Five moderately-priced condos will also be available for purchase, according to the developer, national real estate giant Trammell Crow.

Representatives from Trammell Crow said the condo project would be less dense and of a lower scale than what is allowed under current zoning, includes more underground parking than what is required, includes affordable units, and would not create any significant impacts on the environment.

The condo complex, which consists of three separate buildings surrounding a 5,000 square-foot central courtyard at the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, will replace the former home of Santa Monica’s first female mayor, Clo Hoover, who led the fight against the demolition of the Santa Monica and Newcomb piers and the construction of an island in Santa Monica Bay.

The appeal illustrates the housing struggle in Santa Monica, with affordable-housing advocates battling with development interests looking to capitalize on the city by the sea’s robust real estate market. For decades, the two sides have been in conflict as affordable rental units are taken out of circulation, replaced by high-priced condominiums.

Before the hearing Tuesday, Titus Wapato, a former resident and a member of the resident group fighting the condo project, pleaded with the council to reschedule the hearing, saying his group was not given ample notice and therefore could not properly prepare.

“Since our research is done by various people and we had no time, no advanced notice to put together a report, it is absolutely impossible for us to present a cogent report tonight,” Wapato said. “It’s impossible for us to get a fair hearing under these circumstances.”

Councilman McKeown asked his colleagues to grant the postponement, saying the developer was granted more than one earlier in the process when conservationists tried to landmark the apartment complex because of its ties to Hoover.

The Landmarks Commission, on a 4-3 vote, approved landmark status, however, it was appealed to the City Council by Trammell Crow. The council, on a 4-2 vote, overturned the designation, paving the way for demolition. Trammell Crow purchased the building in 2007. Residents there were forced to relocate in 2009 during the landmarks process.

McKeown chose not to vote on the appeal out of protest, bashing Trammell Crow for forcing residents to sign agreements that they would not speak out against the project in exchange for relocation assistance. He also sided with residents who said the property was not maintained in good faith and was allowed to deteriorate.

“Every time I drive by this site, I am going to feel shame at how this community was unable to protect its residents and its history,” said McKeown. “I cannot vote for this project. … The extremely constrained options we have on an appeal like this don’t allow me to vote the way my conscience tells me I have to.”

Gregory Ames, principal at Trammell Crow, said care for the apartment complex was not put on hold, only postponed so that the developer could find another company to perform maintenance because the previous one performed poorly. Residents were not allowed to work on landscaping or make repairs because of liability concerns, Ames said.

He also said the gag orders were originally included in relocation benefit agreements but later removed when they became an issue. He said the Rent Control Board reviewed the gag order and did not object.

Mayor Bobby Shriver spoke out against the gag order.

“Putting that gag clause was a big mistake,” Shriver said. “That is something that we are against. We want people to speak out at any time about anything, regardless if they have accepted any benefits. We feel strongly about that.”

Two residents living near the project told the council before the vote that they liked the condo’s design, and felt that it would make a great addition to the neighborhood. The project’s location was described as a key “gateway” in Santa Monica, located at the corner of San Vicente and Ocean, one of the more heavily-traveled areas of the city.

Originally, Trammell Crow presented a more modern structure that was rejected by many residents. Trammell Crow held meetings with community members and dramatically changed the design, something Councilwoman Gleam Davis made note of.

“We frequently hear people say, ‘I went to a meeting and nobody did anything,’” she said. “This seems to be an instance where people attended a meeting and expressed opinions, and those opinions were heard.

“I find this [design] to be very accessible and will make for a nice addition to this corner.”

Residents opposed to the project could pursue legal action as a last resort.

The condo project heads to the Architectural Review Board for another round of approvals.


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