CITY HALL — Planning commissioners denied a request by city staff to move forward with the demolition and replacement of the public parking structure on Second Street at its meeting Wednesday.

The rejection came in spite of staff recommendation to avoid an overlap between the reconstruction of the building — called Parking Structure 6 — and the demolition of Parking Structure 3, which will be part of a potential AMC movie theater project.

In its current form, PS 6 fits 342 parking spaces on the 1400 block of Second Street.

Its central location near the Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Pier and Santa Monica Place made it a prime candidate for renewal, city staff said.

The new design, created by International Parking Design, Inc., would provide 750 parking spaces, 13 motorcycle spaces and 90 bicycle spaces across three-and-a-half subterranean levels and a maximum height of 84 feet.

It would also include storage space for city events and continue to host a Santa Monica Police Substation.

Staff moved forward with the design based on a City Council vote in 2006 approving a Downtown Parking Program meant to provide a plan to manage and develop Downtown public parking.

Two parking structures have already been retrofitted in accordance with the first phase of that plan, and the revamp of PS 6 would constitute the beginning of the second, which involves the replacement of City Hall-owned structures to address the future needs of Downtown.

But commissioners stumbled over a series of potential problems, including an over-concentration of cars in the area, a lack of routes in and out of the structure and the overall aesthetics of the building, which will be taller than any other parking structure in the area.

Putting that much parking on the Broadway end of the Promenade, in addition to the structure at Santa Monica Place, would starve the northern sections of foot traffic, and force hundreds more cars into the downtown, they argued.

The design struggles with only one exit lane that spits directly into a right-hand turn onto Second Street. As a result, cars trying to get to the 10 Freeway would almost necessarily use Fourth Street, and cause congestion in the Downtown that planners have been trying to avoid, said Commissioner Gwynne Pugh.

Economic Development Manager Miriam Mack told commissioners that a “quick” traffic study would be conducted to see what other options could be worked into the design.

“Staff has done a solid job trying to convince us it’s only about one or two lanes,” said Chair Jim Ries. “They haven’t looked at what 750 cars is going to do to the Downtown.”

Ries argued that letting loose nearly twice as many cars as currently fit in the structure had to have an environmental impact, and that doing a study after the planning commission issued the conditional use permit for the building of the project didn’t make any sense.

The environmental impact report on the project does state that the parking structure will not cause a significant impact on the traffic patterns in the Downtown area.

Pugh also commented that the visual appeal of the building was only one-sided.

While the western front facing Second Street has much to recommend it — including a red diagonal staircase that acts as a focal point amid an exterior of aluminum fins that reflect light into the interior of the building — the rest of the building seems to be forgotten.

The height of the building, coming in at 84 feet, means that its other sides will be visible from the Promenade itself.

“Aesthetics are not our purview, but how a building sits in its environment is,” Pugh said.

Ries had a more fundamental issue with the project.

“If I liked the project, I wouldn’t harp on CEQA so much,” Ries said.

Commissioner Jason Parry, however, spoke for the project, specifically that with PS 3 planned to go offline in the near future, parking could be near-impossible for patrons looking to shop at local businesses.

“We are dealing with a key to the success of Downtown, and that’s parking,” Parry said.

The commission voted 4 to 2 to deny the permit, with Newbold and Parry on the losing side.

A series of text amendments, which would allow a future structure to skip on certain requirements such as stepbacks and a less-than 84-foot building did pass on a 4 to 2 vote, with Ries and Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy against.

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