File photo
File photo
File photo

CITY HALL — Planning commissioners want to vet development projects smaller than the trigger numbers proposed by city planners, but they’re not sure exactly how small.

Commissioners Wednesday debated several items in the Zoning Ordinance Update draft, including day cares, the appeals process and neighborhood conservation.

This was their second crack at the new zoning laws, which will dictate uses, sizes, design, and lots of other aspects of what’s allowed for buildings throughout Santa Monica.

They’ll discuss the draft four more times before sending it to City Council with their recommendations. Council will spend four nights with the document before approving it. City planners are hoping to have the ordinance in place by May.

Currently, an Interim Zoning Ordinance, which was adopted in January 2011, requires a review process for all new developments of 7,500 square feet or more in commercially-zoned areas.

City planners are recommending a jump to 20,000 square feet for Tier 1 projects in commercial areas. Anything smaller could be approved by the planning director without review by council or the commission. Tier 1 projects are less dense and tall than Tier 2 and 3 projects. Anything above a Tier 1 project would require a review from the commission and council.

Commissioners said that the planners’ recommended mark was too high. Several of them pointed to currently existing Walgreens and Staples when explaining why they would want more control in the process.

“I wouldn’t want to come back in two years and find that Lincoln [Boulevard] is lined by big-box retailers,” Commissioner Richard McKinnon said.

One side effect of the 20,000-square-foot mark, Commissioner Amy Anderson said, is that it may incentivize Tier 1 projects.

“If someone is building something that is less than 20,000 square feet, and in doing so I don’t have to take the time, or the risk, or the money to go through a discretionary process, then I think that might make sense for a lot of people,” she said. “If they have to go through a discretionary process, they might just go to a Tier 2 level and develop more.”

The Land Use and Circulation Element, a document that gives broad outlines to the development of Santa Monica through 2030, describes Tier 1 projects as being ministerial, Planning Director David Martin explained.

“There was a time when projects up to 30,000 square feet could be approved by administrative approval,” he said. “That was taken down to 7,500. Once we have the LUCE and the Zoning Ordinance in place we feel it’s appropriate to go higher than 7,500 but where that number is up to the commission to recommend.”

Commissioner Gerda Newbold expressed concern about the uniformity of the number required to trigger a review.

Residential, neighborhood commercial, and oceanfront zoning districts would require review at 10,000 square feet or above. All other districts require review above the aforementioned 20,000-square-foot mark.

“I think Montana is very different than Wilshire and I think Pico and Lincoln are different than Santa Monica Boulevard but it doesn’t sounds like we know what the number is,” she said.

Commissioners agreed that the right number falls somewhere between 7,500 and 20,000 square feet.

Martin said city planners would study the limits and come back with a recommendation.

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