Denny's on Lincoln Boulevard. (Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL – The Planning Commission quickly approved alcohol permits and gave parking breaks relating to an expansion of Rusty’s Surf Ranch at their last meeting.

The expansion will add 2,000 square feet to the 4,500-square-foot building, increasing the restaurant’s standard seating from 183 seats to 384.

A parking study found that Rusty’s won’t need to add more parking spaces to meet the parking demand resulting from the expansion. Commissioners agreed.

Rusty’s also asked for permission to sell alcohol in expanded areas. The restaurant has never been hit with a violation in its more than two decades on the Santa Monica Pier. Commissioners agreed unanimously with recommendations from city planners that alcohol be permitted in the expanded areas.

Construction will be completed in chunks and could start in January.

Denny’s replacement project improvements lauded

All six present planning commissioners expressed appreciation for changes made to the design of a mixed-use project, slated to replace the Denny’s on Lincoln Boulevard.

The previous iteration proposed one large building. The new proposal splits the project into several buildings, breaking up the massing.

Some of the changes made the project less profitable, representatives from the developer told the commission, and one of the results is proposed affordable housing that is less affordable than in the previous plan.

City Councilmember Elect and Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich asked that the affordable housing be restructured.

A 5-story, 98,800-square-foot mixed-use project is expected to take the diner’s place. It would include 100 residential units, 13,100 square feet of ground floor retail, and 221 parking spaces in a three-level underground garage. Twenty of the units would be labeled affordable.

There was a small rift in the commission on the topic of parking. Several commissioners, including Gerda Newbold, suggested that too much parking is being proposed in the project, which would be located a couple blocks from the terminus station of the incoming Expo Light Rail.

“This is where we want to incentivize people not to have cars,” she said.

Newbold favored the unbundling of parking, which gives tenants the option to pay for their parking spaces, rather than requiring that it be included as a part of their rent. Commissioner Amy Anderson agreed.

Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy said that, as the project is currently proposed, she opposes the unbundling.

Newbold also lobbied for the developer to provide more resources for historic preservation in the area.

Commissioner Jim Ries suggested reiterated his favored community benefit: traffic mitigation measures.

Starting a traffic management organization or providing a circulator Downtown would be, in Ries’ opinion, one of the best community benefits the developer could offer.

Himmelrich asked that 20 percent of the project be set aside for open space, a number that the developer’s representatives said they could get to.

Kennedy was concerned about plans for part of the building to be cantilevered over the sidewalk. She also asked that the ceiling heights, which, as proposed, are uniform, be different throughout the project to create a more diverse aesthetic.

The commissioners’ suggestions will be considered before the developer returns with a more complete version of the project in coming months. Eventually, City Council will decide whether or not to move forward with the project.

Positive review

A proposal by the same developer for a 6-story mixed-use project on Fifth Street, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway, got a similar review from the commission.

The space is currently occupied by 15,000 square feet of commercial space in a 2-story building.

The new project would add 64 residential units and 7,784 square feet of commercial space in an 84-foot-tall, 52,239-square-foot building.

Twelve of the units would be labeled affordable.

Several commissioners said they appreciated the design.

Kennedy asked why it couldn’t be a little less dense and little less tall.

But, she said, “there’s a lot going for this project. It is different.”

Ries lauded a proposal for rooftop gardens.

Anderson and Newbold questioned the need for more parking spaces than required by the zoning guidelines being proposed for Downtown.

Several commissioners suggested a restructuring of the proposed affordable housing.

Like the project slated to replace Denny’s, this project is still in an early stage.

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