NOTICE: The Pico Neighborhood Association is against a plan to redevelop a number of properties on 21st Street into condos. (Daniel Archuleta

PICO NEIGHBORHOOD – A controversial 21-unit condominium project proposed for the Pico Neighborhood may be put on ice thanks to a nominationfrom the Landmarks Commission last week.

The project, slated for a plot on 21st Street, would replace nine buildings that hold 15 rent-controlled apartments. The new building would hold 19 rent-controlled units and two units for very-low income tenants.

Many neighbors were furious about the project, claiming that it is an example of gentrification that has ousted residents from their neighborhood.

Members of the Planning Commission noted that, for legal reasons, it would be hard for them to reject the project. They instead opted to delay approval, sending the project to the Landmarks Commission. The buildings are more than 50 years old, one dates back to 1935, and so the Landmarks Commission would have to give approval for the buildings to be demolished.

Consultants checked out all nine buildings and noted that six of them, located between 2014 and 2018 21st Street, are probably not historically significant. The commission agreed.

But three buildings, between 2002 and 2008 21st Street, could be eligible to be labeled as either Landmarks or Structures of Merit, according to the consultants.

The property is emblematic of post-World War II development in Santa Monica and is an “increasingly rare intact example” of a one-story courtyard apartment from the 1940s and 1950s. For this reason, consultants said, it could meet Landmark criteria.

The neighborhood once had many courtyard apartments, the consultants said.

“Of the eleven total courtyard apartments identified,” they said, “the subject property is representative of the property type and is also one of the most intact examples in the Pico neighborhood in terms of physical integrity.”

For this reason, they said, it could meet the criteria for a Structure of Merit.

One commissioner pushed for the Landmark nominationbut no one else agreed.

Commissioner Leslie Lambert pointed out that while there are many differences between the requirements placed on the building-owners of Landmarks versus requirements placed on Structures of Merit, they have to follow the same guidelines for demolition of a building. If approved as a Structure of Merit, the commission would have to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness in order for the demolition to occur.

A representative of the developer asked that they not file for preservation status and noted that they’d gotten word of the meeting at the last minute.

Commissioners voted unanimously to file to nominate the three buildings as Structures of Merit.

This is the beginning of the process – the buildings’ Structure of Merit status will be considered at a later date. Even then, owners can file for the buildings to be demolished claiming, for example, economic hardship. The designation would likely, at the very least, slow the process.

One member of the public spoke about the neighborhood’s objections to the project, citing concerns about gentrification and the loss of rent control units.

Commissioners made clear that those were not issues over which they have jurisdiction.

If the project is approved the Rent Control Board would also have to sign off, given that rent control units are being replaced.

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