One of the proposed designs for Bergamot Station
One of the proposed designs for Bergamot Station

BERGAMOT STATION – Residents got loud during a community meeting about the proposed development of Bergamot Station, currently the largest art complex in Southern California.

City Council heard proposals from three developers in February but opted to delay selection until the community and the artists got a chance to weigh in.

All the proposals include the addition of creative office space and a hotel. Each proposed hotels is at least six stories tall. Each project includes at least 40,000 square feet of office space.

The meeting, which took place in one of the Bergamot Station buildings on Tuesday night, was meant to introduce the public to the developers.

More than a hundred residents showed up, arriving early, filling the space, mingling over City Hall-provided cookies. A small dog yipped. A couple kids wandered through the crowd. Anybody who’s anybody in the land-use wonk world was there.

The developers – REthink/KOR, Bergamot Station Ltd/Worth Real Estate, and the City Hall-recommended 26Street TOD Partners – each gave 15-minute pitches, ending with crowd applause.

After the developers spoke, William Turner, the spokesperson for his fellow gallery owners, took the stage explaining that Bergamot Station is unique because unlike other areas cleaned up by arts movements, like New York City’s SoHo, the artists have not yet been forced by rising rents to move out of the area they made popular.

Turner then filibustered on the topic of parking, particularly on the lack of proposed parking and the impacts of building an underground parking garage. Building a subterranean garage, which REthink and Bergamot Station Ltd. propose, would displace artists, Turner said.

Developers, he suggested, should be allowed to build parking at the adjacent City Yard. He asked them to move slowly so as not to disrupt the fragile ecosystem of Bergamot Station. Turner, amidst sturdy applause, then ceded the mic to city officials who, noting that the public still needed a chance to ask questions, had surrounded him on stage.

City officials then read questions that residents had written down. There were quite a few about the proposed hotel:

“Why a hotel?”

“What’s the need for a hotel?”

“Why a hotel and not artist lofts?”

“What are the overall sizes of the hotels?”

Jason Harris, economic development manager for City Hall, prefaced the developer’s responses by explaining that they each proposed hotels because City Hall requested a hotel.

“Why?” one resident yelled. The crowd flared up with a chorus of “Why?”

“So the whole audience wants to know why the city was requesting a hotel,” Harris said.

Peter James, a senior planner for City Hall, stepped in explaining that the Bergamot Area Plan, which defines goals for land-uses in the area, was created over a three-year process and adopted last year with unanimous council support. During that time, city planners spent a year working on the Bergamot arts center.

“Through that process – three large workshops, four focus groups, individual stakeholder interviews with each and every Bergamot tenant – the concept of a hotel, additional retail, open space, things that would not compete with the art uses, but would complement them, came out of that process,” James said.

James and the developers noted that the hotel would also generate revenue for City Hall allowing them to subsidize some of the arts uses.

From the audience Robert Berman, another gallery owner, asked Harris and the developers directly why a parking structure couldn’t be built on the City Yard immediately.

City officials have noted that a parking structure could be built there in the future, but that it would take some time.

“If you wait for it to come down the road, Bergamot Station will not survive,” Berman said.

After 10 seconds of applause Harris responded: “I’m pretty sure the developers will say that they will build the parking structure.”

“Let’s hear them,” several audience members shouted.

(All three said they would and were met with applause.)

Susan Cline, assistant director of Public Works, came to the front of the room to explain why the construction of the parking garage at the City Yard is not a simple issue.

“It’s much more to us, in the community of Santa Monica, than just a dump,” she said. “It has all of the shop facilities: carpenters, plumbers, and so forth that maintain the facilities in the city of Santa Monica. Fleet maintenance that maintains all the more than 700 vehicles in the City’s fleet. It’s our water resources department. So all of that operates 24/7.”

City Hall will have to move several facilities before they can get to the point where a parking garage could begin to be built, she said.

“We are moving forward but there is a lot more to it than just clearing the area to build the parking structures,” Cline said.

This silenced the crowd until Recreation and Parks Chair Phil Brock, from the front row of the audience, suggested that if City Hall closes part of the Santa Monica Airport in 2015, as they say they might, that land could house Public Works facilities.

The audience cheered as Brock threw the microphone back into the hands of a city official.

The next audience member brought up what he considered an insufficient parking situation at the proposed Hines development project, which is located nearby. The project was approved by council but will be reconsidered and could go before voters thanks to a large resident petition. The crowd applauded before he could complete his sentence.

Council will likely select one of the three developers later this year.

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