CITY HALL — Nothing occurs in a vacuum, particularly development in a dense city like Santa Monica.

Perhaps never has that been more true than with three projects, located on Colorado Avenue a quarter-mile from the proposed Bergamot Transit Village, that are all at various stages in the planning pipeline.

As those projects go through Santa Monica’s extensive public process, city planners are simultaneously conducting public meetings to gather input for a comprehensive plan meant to govern the growth and style of development in the area.

The concurrent nature of both the projects — one of which is almost through its negotiation phase with City Hall — and the plan that’s supposed to guide them led to public concern at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, when elected officials got their first informal look at the second of three projects that will form a mixed-use arts district located amidst a dense residential neighborhood formed of apartments and the Village Trailer Park.

Plans call for the development, called the Roberts Center, to consist of four buildings totaling 250,000 square feet bounded by Colorado Avenue between Stewart and Stanford streets.

To the west is the proposed Lions Gate headquarters project, which had its development agreement conditionally approved by the Planning Commission last week.

The Village Trailer Park, the third project in the area which is still under environmental review, lies to the east.

The four Roberts Center buildings will be evenly split between housing and creative arts studios, according to Jing Yeo, a special projects manager with City Hall.

Parks and open space break up the buildings, as does an extension of Pennsylvania Avenue between Stewart and Stanford streets.

Under City Hall’s recently adopted Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE, the area falls into a Mixed-Use Creative Arts district, which lies within the wider umbrella of the Bergamot Area Plan.

“The vision is for mixed-use with a focus on creative arts uses … balancing housing and daily needs to serve existing and future residents,” Yeo said.

Residents and citizens that came to discuss the project, however, didn’t feel that their needs were being considered.

Speakers worried that all three projects were being considered piecemeal, and that the combined impacts of the three would be brutal to the nearby neighborhoods.

Friends of Sunset Park, a local community organization, wrote to council members urging them to consider the three projects together, and only after a master plan for the area had been completed.

“Those three projects total over 670,000 square feet, and a total of over 2 million square feet of development projects is already planned for the Bergamot/Creative Mixed Use area,” the group wrote.

Mayor Richard Bloom asked staff how they intended to make sure that the three projects proceeded according to plan, when the plan had not yet been formed.

“Here we have this discrete project we’re looking at tonight and some to follow,” Bloom said. “How does staff apply goals of the area plan to these individual projects so we know these goals are met and followed?”

Staff will work with the development agreements much as it did with those that were being formed while the LUCE was still under negotiation, Yeo said.

“As we hear feedback from the community, although it’s not technically adopted, we’ll take that forward as draft direction,” Yeo said. “It helps to inform the evaluation of these projects as they’re brought forward.”

Pieces of the projects are already being planned concurrently.

The Roberts Center, Lions Gate project and Village Trailer Park each have different owners and different development agreements, which are contracts with City Hall to ensure that developers go the extra mile in order to get special permission to build outside of zoning requirements.

The owners of the Roberts Center and Lions Gate projects are taking steps to make their developments more cohesive by employing the same civil engineer and architectural firm, Yeo said.

Another major concern was traffic.

The extension of Pennsylvania Avenue, which the developer hailed as a community benefit, was seen as an invitation for drivers to cut through the project and into residential neighborhoods to get to Centinela Avenue.

Paul Rosenstein, a Santa Monica resident, pointed to the Lions Gate environmental impact report in his comments, which states that the project will further clog already congested intersections.

Speakers also demanded to know what community benefits would be built into the project, which planners say aren’t clearly defined at this early stage.

Some preliminary ideas include two new streets to be shared between pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles, a possible contribution to the Exposition light rail station improvements, open space, housing and community rooms, Yeo said.

Measures meant to reduce trips and encourage residents and employees to use buses and other forms of alternative transportation will likely be built in as well, she said.

In their comments, council members directed staff to work on the Pennsylvania extension issue, and to consider ways to enliven the area by blocking off the street and letting other uses, like farmers’ markets, spill over into the space.

Councilmember Terry O’Day also characterized the development as a “fantastic opportunity” to make sure that the new buildings include eco-friendly amenities like gray water reuse and infrastructure for electric vehicles.

The council approved the float up unanimously. The applicant will get a chance to go back over the architectural drawings with planning staff and work out details of the development agreement before it comes back to city officials with a more formal application.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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