CITY HALL — Not since the iconic “hope” image of then presidential candidate Barack Obama burst onto the radar of popular culture four years ago have stickers made such a statement.
Over 80 people came to Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting to express their views about proposed plans for the renovation of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, and nearly all came with either a blue or a red sticker.
Those in blue were proponents of the project. Their ranks included community leaders, representatives of neighborhood groups, union hotel employees and business owners.
The message: Allowing the hotel owners to replace and renovate the current buildings will turn the hotel from an architectural hodgepodge into a modern luxury resort, revitalize Downtown and bring in tax dollars, to boot.
“To be competitive in this economy, we have to renovate these sites,” said Maria Loya, of Unite Here Local 11, which represents the hotel’s employees. “The taxes continue to fund our public services.”
Workers were also promised a severance package or right to return to their jobs once construction ends, she said.
Opponents had red stop signs, and were generally neighbors who felt their quality of life would be impacted by the project, businesses whose buildings might lose value as either hotel or office space and community activists who believe the proposed 133-foot-tall tower is a harbinger of doom for quaint Santa Monica.
They urged the Planning Commission to request a reduction in the scope and scale of the proposed changes in order to protect property values and prevent Santa Monica from becoming the Miami Beach of the West Coast.
Very few had an outright disagreement with the developer’s main argument: The Fairmont Miramar needs some updating.
Alan Epstein of MSD Capital, the company which owns the hotel, laid it out plainly.
“The building is unattractive, the rooms are too small, the food and beverage space is inadequate, the spa is outdated and in separate facilities, the back of the house is inadequate for our staff and the infrastructure is old and environmentally inefficient,” Epstein told commissioners.
The hotel dates back to the 1920s, or at least pieces of it do. Since, the bungalows and a mid-20th century tower were added to the site, creating a mix of architectural elements on the 4.5-acre lot.
To fix those incongruities and bring the amenities in line with a modern luxury hotel, the Fairmont’s owners propose a new, seven-story building at the corner of Ocean and California avenues that would contain hotel rooms topped with for-sale condominiums.
The existing 10-story Ocean Tower would be demolished to create a 12-story tower, approximately 135 feet tall, consisting of hotel rooms, condominiums and a rooftop restaurant and deck.
The historic brick Palisades building would remain in place. The future buildings, to be designed by architect John Hill, would be guided by a report put together by historic preservationist Robert Chattel.
Hill is responsible for the Shutters Hotel, also in Santa Monica.
Although the architectural elements have not been designed, the applicant did come with a proposed set of uses.
The new layout would reduce the number of hotel rooms by approximately 30, triple the food and beverage space, expand the retail and spa areas and add up to 120 market-rate condominiums.
Two surface parking lots got the ax in favor of subterranean structures which would triple the number of parking spaces from 160 to 484 and use the new area on the ground floor to create a park accessible to the public.
The extra height needed to free up that much open space — which will take up 51 percent of the parcel — offended members of the opposition group Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion, which gathered 850 signatures on a petition against the project.
SMAME members repeatedly pronounced that the project is too big and too high for the site and is out of scale with the existing neighborhood.
Robert Gurfield, a resident on the 1100 block of Third Street, showed a truncated version of a video demonstrating what he called the “canyon effect” that would be caused by the tall buildings on other portions of Santa Monica’s streets.
Other concerns included the reduction in value for nearby condominiums — one speaker estimated the cost between $7.5 and $15 million — traffic, inadequate parking and the possibility that developing on the site would lead to additional tall developments near the ocean.
It was around 11:30 p.m. when the last public speaker made their case. Rather than debate the case, the commissioners voted unanimously to continue the matter to Feb. 22.
Gurfield felt that the anti-hotel team had gotten its point across.
“I hope they send a strong sign to the City Council that says, ‘Woah guys, not so fast,’” Gurfield said. “I hope they were thinking about what they saw and heard and will be trying to be as helpful as they can to promote this view and make sure we get some attention paid to us.”