BERGAMOT AREA — The developer behind last year’s most controversial project is looking to reoccupy the site, which is currently dormant, according email exchanges obtained by the Daily Press.
In February, City Council voted 4-3 to approve a project with Texas-based developer Hines that would have added 765,000 square feet of office, housing, retail and restaurants across five roughly 80-foot-tall buildings on Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street. The development agreement penalized the developer if the project exceeded set traffic volumes. It also required the developer to give millions of dollars to the city through community benefits.
Many residents, concerned about the traffic the project would create, led a charge against the project and successfully sent it back before council through a signature-gathering process. This time, Councilmember Gleam Davis reluctantly switched sides. Reoccupation of the building, she said as she voted to overturn the project, would be “a tragedy.”
As early as August, representatives from Hines began discussing the possibility of reoccupying the Papermate space, according to emails sent from Hines executives to city planners.
On Nov. 17, City Hall’s Planning Director David Martin sent an email to Doug Metzler of Hines explaining the process the developer would have to take to reoccupy the space.
Martin also included a summary of, as he understood it, the goals of the developer in the reoccupation process.
“We understand that the proposed strategy would be to reoccupy some or all of the existing buildings with creative office tenants,” he said in the letter.
He noted that Hines informed the city planners that the recapitalization of the former Papermate side may also result in an outright sale.
“While your plans are not yet finalized,” he said in the letter, “you have shared that one concept being pursued is to demolish the approximately 5,000 square-foot building on the eastern portion of the property and add up to 7,500 square feet of floor area to the main building.”
Depending on the scope of the project, this addition of space could require a discretionary review permit and may not be eligible to be added through an administrative approval, which is a process that does not require a public hearing, Martin explained to Metzler in the letter.
“In order for the project to be processed as an (administrative approval), you could propose floor area to be moved within the main building and add no more than 7,500 (square feet) of net new floor area,” Martin said.
Reiterating Hines’ plans, Martin noted that parking would be provided through the existing surface lot with the potential for stacked parking in a garage.
Metzler declined to comment for this article.
As it stands, the 7-acre property consists of a 200,000-square-foot former factory. Hines can reoccupy the space without paying City Hall the community benefits or adhering to the traffic management plans that were in place in the development agreement.
Many saw the idea of reoccupation as a bluff. Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City co-Chair Diana Gordon called Hines’ assertion that it would reoccupy the space “posturing” in a release last year.
In early November, City Hall’s Economic Development Manager Jason Harris introduced Hines representatives to representatives of Kite Pharma, a Santa Monica-based biopharmaceutical company, via email.
“When we met last week, we committed to identifying potential opportunities for Kite Pharma’s manufacturing project (60-100,000 square feet of biomedical FDA approved lab/manufacturing space) that Kite might consider leasing within Santa Monica,” Harris said in the email.
He noted that Hines’ vacant warehouses would have space to accommodate Kite Pharma’s manufacturing facility program.
“They express a strong interest in Kite Pharma and feel that your project would be a good fit in their property,” Harris said of Hines in the email. “They stated that they will follow up with you all in early December.”
Kite Pharma executives did not respond to request for comment by press time.
In February, Davis and Councilmember Terry O’Day wrote an editorial in the Daily Press and other local newspapers defending their decision to support the Hines project. They spoke of the possibility of reoccupation, which they said could lead to “roughly 310,000 square feet” of new office space.
“They would be required to make only the smallest of pedestrian improvements and few traffic control measures,” Davis and O’Day said. “The environmental studies we conducted on the site found that thousands of trips per day would be generated by reoccupation.”
Environmental impact reports showed that Hines’ proposed project would have added more than 7,000 daily car trips to the area.
City planner Jing Yeo, who managed the Hines project, said that Hines has not yet submitted an application for the site.