People stroll down Ocean Avenue on Saturday. (Paul Alvarez Jr.)
People stroll down Ocean Avenue on Saturday. (Paul Alvarez Jr.)

CITY HALL — How high is too high for an oceanfront project? You, registered voter, may have a chance to decide.

On Tuesday, when City Council unanimously favored the 148-foot-tall version of a proposed Downtown project over its 84-foot-tall alternative, many residents were up in arms about the project’s height.

The Downtown Specific Plan, which is currently in draft form, could set height limits for area buildings at 84 feet.

Councilman Kevin McKeown — who has fought vehemently against large projects in the past — spoke highly of the taller design, highlighting the potential community benefits that could come along with it.

In announcing his support for the 148-foot-tall option, McKeown also expressed a desire to introduce a ballot measure that could give residents a chance to vote on new developments along Ocean Avenue.

McKeown’s measure, which would require support of fellow council members to be placed on the November ballot, could force a public vote for any project on Ocean that exceeds the height limits set forth in the Zoning Code. Currently, anything that falls outside of the Zoning Code can be allowed through City Hall’s lengthy development agreement process.

“Observing the continued polarization of our community over development issues, I’m interested in assuaging fears that the City Council might approve projects along our oceanfront skyline that exceed zoning limits and could affect the look of our whole city,” McKeown wrote in an e-mail. “It was clear Tuesday night that many residents fear that allowing height beyond zoning code in the city is a precursor to unrestrained height in visually sensitive areas like Ocean Avenue.”

McKeown could present the height-cap measure to his council mates as early as the next meeting on June 24. If council agrees, the measure would be fleshed out and brought back for an official council vote sometime before July 22 — the last date for council to approve a ballot measure in time for the November General Election.

McKeown said he’s spoken with residents on both sides of development issues about how to protect the city from a “skyline along the coast” while creating some harmony on other land use issues.

At Tuesday’s meeting, members of Residocracy, the community group that recently successfully halted a controversial development agreement through a referendum process, threatened another referendum if the project at hand is not turned into a public park. The proposed project is located on public land four blocks back from the beach.

“With the growth of Residocracy and other resident organizing around development issues, it’s pretty clear any project exceeding zoning along Ocean Avenue is going to face a referendum anyway,” McKeown said. “Rather than force that long and divisive process to play out multiple times, my hope is that we can agree in advance that our coastal skyline is of such great import and concern to all Santa Monicans that very large projects there should be considered directly by the voters.”

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