The reasons why so many Santa Monicans are anti-development is because new projects are popping up like weeds and almost all of them are just plain ugly.

There are also issues with size, massing and placement. Their effect on traffic and parking is also an “unlike” factor.

It seems that City Hall’s Planning and Community Development Department and the politically appointed Planning Commission look at new projects as being isolated from each other.

In reality, there are a number of mixed-use developments – apartment buildings (with retail and restaurant space on the ground floor) going up in close proximity to each other. The relationship and cumulative effect of all these new developments near or adjacent to each other is being ignored. This is bad planning.

In addition to increased density, intensification of use and heights double or triple what the present code allows, the appearance and architecture of these new projects is banal, repetitive, unexciting, boring and creatively numbing

Take 500 Broadway, for example. It’s one ugly, overly-large and dense, seven story (84 foot tall), 262 unit apartment building with a 577 vehicle underground garage slated for the Fred Segal site. It was given the go-ahead by City Council, October 28 and was actually praised by both planning commissioners and councilpersons, alike. Go figure.

How about all the other projects scheduled for development within a two block radius of Fifth/Broadway on the Planning Department’s current case list?

Across the intersection, at 501 Broadway, a proposed six floor, 65-unit apartment building with parking for 154 cars is waiting for its development agreement.

Two tourist-class hotels are under construction just down the block at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue. 1554 Fifth Street is a six-floor hotel with 136 rooms and 78 parking places. The intersection’s other six floor hotel at 501 Colorado will have 143 rooms and parking for 78 cars. Both of these hotels are seriously under-parked, especially considering they’ll contain retail/restaurant space.

1415 Fifth Street, a block north of Fifth/Broadway, is a proposed six floor (74 feet), 60-unit apartment building with parking for 117 vehicles. 1437 Fifth Street described in the case list as a six floor (80 feet) “affordable housing/commercial mixed use project” with 50 units. It’s also seriously under-parked with only 31 on-site parking spaces.

Almost directly behind 500 Broadway is 525 Colorado. It will be an eight floor, mixed use/housing project with 77 units and underground parking for 125 cars. 601 Colorado will be a six story, mixed use building with 73 apartments and 160 underground parking spaces.

One block west of Fifth/Broadway is 401 Broadway will have five floors, 56 apartments and 49 subterranean parking spaces. This project wasn’t going to have any parking until the developers found out they couldn’t get financing without it.

Lincoln Boulevard has a similar problem with canyonization. One and two floor buildings will give way to five and six floor, wall-to-wall projects. Seven in all are awaiting development agreements in a two-block stretch including 1560 Lincoln (formerly Denny’s Coffee Shop) with five floors and 100 apartments.

1601 Lincoln, (formerly Norm’s) will have five floors and 90 apartments, 1613 Lincoln will five floors and 56 apartments and 1637 Lincoln will also have five floors with 75 apartments. 1641 Lincoln will feature five floors and 78 apartments 1650 Lincoln will have six floors with 79 apartments and 1660 Lincoln will sport six floors with 77 apartments. Subterranean garages under each project will vary from 75 to 221 vehicles.

What is their cumulative effect? Nearly 1,200 new apartments with up to 1,800 new residents living cheek by jowl, in cookie cutter developments that look like stucco boxes with protrusions for windows and small balconies, flat rooflines and monochromatic color schemes. The architectural style? Cold industrial and bland.

Architect Ron Goldman sent Planning Commissioners an email after they approved the developer’s preliminary plans for 1415 Fifth on November 12.

Goldman wrote, “There is absolutely no reason to increase the scale of the street that already exists at five and six stories and varies from 30 to 60 feet. Listen to your staff, ask to see alternatives that don’t create canyons! Don’t sell our city so quickly and cheaply! …Stop destroying the character of our city! “

To prove his point, Goldman submitted four thumbnail redesigns for the project. Each maintained the basic look of the developer’s original building, but lowered the height from 84 to 60 ft, slightly reduced the floor area ratio and rearranged the massing so that, in one case, all the apartments had corner views.

His four renderings named “The Stagger”, “The Village”, “The TV set” and “The Stepback” had setbacks, varying rooflines and side elevations and interior courtyards to make for greatly improved attractiveness and livability. Commissioners’ response? Tepid, but polite.

I get the feeling most developers don’t care about good design or public opinion as long as their project is built to maximize profits. There are some good architects working in Santa Monica, so why so much terrible development? Maybe the folks in the planning process don’t have the skill, inclination or taste to insist on well-designed projects.

As a result, we’re left with ugliness and uninspiring piles of shoeboxes pretending to be someone’s homes. That must change.

We want good looking developments that adhere to the current height limits and that offer real meaningful community benefits instead of building amenities posing as benefits. The community deserves and demands nothing less.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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