Armen Melkonians, founder of the Residocracy movement, speaks to a crowd of supporters gathered outside of City Hall. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

MY WRITE — Last Wednesday evening, a couple hundred neighbors attended a Town Hall meeting at Lincoln Middle School. The Planning Commission listened to public comment on proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance due June, 2015.

Zoning codes must be updated to implement standards for future development throughout Santa Monica as outlined in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the city’s Master Plan.

Many attendees voiced concern that too many code revisions seemed to be created more for developer profitability than resident well-being. It’s a point well taken considering that a number of last minute changes requested by land-use attorneys and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce favoring the business community and developers were incorporated into the LUCE in the immediate weeks before its approval in 2010

Then there’s the troubling new language in the “red line” draft Zoning Ordinance Update that called for regulations to “enhance the City’s fiscal health.” I’m all for a fiscally strong municipality, however the new codes must enhance the quality of life of residents first — not city revenue streams.

Speakers were worried that new codes being proposed fell short of allowing residents to “maintain the peace and enjoyment of our homes.” They were not happy with revisions that would allow projects with increased height and density adjacent to residential neighborhoods, “canyonization” of major boulevards and increases in traffic and parking woes.

Of particular interest are the proposed new standards for increased height and massing in new development along major streets such as Wilshire, Lincoln, Santa Monica, Olympic and Pico Boulevards.

Members of various groups ‚Äì Northeast Neighbors, Mid-City Neighbors, Friends of Sunset Park, Neighborhood Council andResidocracy.org. ‚Äì had reviewed hundreds of pages of proposed “red line” zoning updates and determined how various proposed code changes will affect neighborhoods. For example, Northeast Neighbors wantsassurance that the Updates will prevent traffic-generating over-development onWilshireBlvd.

Among the recommendations for inclusion in the new codes are building height limitations on all major boulevards should not exceed 47 feet.

Almost all attendees opposed larger multi-floor, mixed use “activity centers” proposed for Wilshire and Lincoln Boulevards because they’re out of scale with the surrounding community.

A dozen or so “opportunity sites,” primarily in the Downtown core, should also be eliminated as they far exceed current height, density and massing standards. Prime example: the proposed mix-use development on a City owned “opportunity site” between 4th and 5th Streets adjacent to Arizona Avenue which is projected to be 148 feet (12 floors) high.

A number of Town Hall speakers urged that on-site parking requirements for commercial and multi-family projects be maintained as reducing it would exacerbate demand for already scarce street parking in adjacent residential areas. They said the new codes should include adequate on-site parking for business employees, their customers and especially residents in any new multi-family housing.Parking standards must protect neighborhoods as promised by the LUCE.

Opposition to oversized mega-development was also virtually unanimous. Speakers were opposed to the consolidation of parcels throughout the city that would enable oversized developments. They asked for human-scale zoning codes that would encourage neighborhood serving businesses and improve the pedestrian experience. Sidewalk standards being advanced in the zoning for Main Street are good, they said.

Many speakers were against administrative approval of projects by staff, because it substantially reduces the opportunity for public review, accountability and a valid appeals process. Suggested revisions would expand the number of projects eligible for administrative approval, but attendees want Planning Commission authority maintained over all new development.

Neighborhood leaders were especially critical of a mysterious switch of nearly 200 residential lots throughout the city to commercial use. These residential or “A” lots are generally next to commercial properties and used for parking. The reduced height and density requirements for these lots would provide important buffers between homes and commercial boulevards.

Preservation of open, green space is a must. Many speakers asked that the proposed codes not allow developers to use “in lieu fees” to escape providing publicly accessible open, green spacein their projects

Overwhelmingly, Town Hall participants demanded that thecharacter and scale of all neighborhoodsbe betterpreserved.New projects need to be in harmony with existing development, especially in residential neighborhoods.

A suggested revision in the codes to allow commercial day care centers to operatein single-family home neighborhoods was universally panned. So were medical marijuana outlets.

Many speakers also spoke enthusiastically in favor of adaptive reuse of existing buildings whether it is for commercial use or housing.

Low-income housing projects get all kinds of incentives (not available for market-rate developments) such as extra height and density, fast track approvals and minimal public review. Town Hall attendees generally agreed that future codes should reduce the maximum allowable height and density foraffordable housing projectsalong major thoroughfares so that they aren’t out of scale and are more compatible with adjacent neighborhoods.

Attendees were virtually unanimous in wanting community benefits owed by developers in return for being able to build with extra height, mass and density, reduced parking requirements, etc., to benefit the neighborhood impacted by the development. Public benefits must mitigate the negative impacts of a new project and could include traffic improvements and street beautification, they said. Currently, a specific development’s communitybenefits can be deployed anywhere, citywide.

If you want to read the “redline” zoning code updatesit is available onthe City website. Look for Planning – Zoning Update. Warning: it’s 484 pages long!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Bill can be reached atmr.bilbau@gmail.com

 

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