AS IT STANDS: A new development is planned for this property at 1802 Santa Monica Blvd. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)
AS IT STANDS: A new development is planned for this property at 1802 Santa Monica Blvd. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SANTA MONICA BLVD — Residents are getting their hackles up about a proposed development on Santa Monica Boulevard that went from a mixed-use development to an auto dealership with little warning or public process.

The development, set for a vacant lot at 1802 Santa Monica Blvd., went before the Planning Commission in February 2011 as a mixed-use development with 32 units and 9,400 square feet of ground floor commercial space.

It also included two floors of subterranean parking with a total of 95 parking spaces.

When it popped back up on Santa Monica’s website, however, it was as a notice for an environmental review document for an auto dealership, restaurant, 26 residential units and a four-level underground garage with a total of 130 spaces.

Rather than the original mix of 20 studios, six one-bedrooms and six two-bedroom townhomes, the project now involves 24 studio apartments and two one-bedrooms.

The scope of the changes surprised Ellen Hannan, a member of the Mid-City Neighbors neighborhood group, who remembered the original float up and described the current project as “a horror show.”

Shahab Ghods, the architect working on the project, said that the change happened last year when an opportunity came up to sell Infiniti Hybrids at the site.

“This came about after several meetings with staff,” Ghods said.

Santa Monica Boulevard was targeted in the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE, as one place in the city for car dealerships.

In fact, the site is surrounded by them, with five in a two-block radius.

The change to the composition of units was driven by pure market forces, Ghods said.

“We talked to lots of people around Saint John’s (Hospital), people who worked there. There are young professionals there, young nurses, doctors and hospital employees that needed smaller, affordable units.”

Although the change in use bothered Hannan, the lack of process also caused concern.

The Planning Commission was the last body to see the project over two years ago. It qualifies as a development agreement because at the time it was 5 feet over the existing height limits and was set back only 9 feet rather than 14.

Rather than go to the City Council for a float up and then proceed through the rest of the development agreement process, however, this project went straight to the environmental phase, a lengthy and expensive review process.

The planner assigned to the project was not available to comment Thursday.

People are supposed to comment for the environmental review, but Hannan isn’t sure how — she is not as familiar with issues around auto dealerships and there have been no public hearings to raise issues or concerns.

That’s a problem, she said.

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