PICO NEIGHBORHOOD – The Landmarks Commission officially designated a set of Pico neighborhood properties as Structures of Merit, last week and the landowners, who want to develop condominiums are appealing the decision.

Park Virginia, LLC came to the Planning Commission for approval of a 21-unit condo project in May amidst protest from neighbors of the proposal on 21st Street at Pico Boulevard.

The project would combine four plots of land on which the nine buildings sit. There are currently 15 occupied rent controlled units on the properties. The new building would include 19 market-rate units two units set aside 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.

Commissioners voted unanimously to continue discussion of the project at a later date, recommending that the developer go first to the Landmarks Commission.

The Landmarks Commission first tackled the issue in October.

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, were 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, consultants said in a report. 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.

At the meeting, one commissioner pushed for a Landmark designation but no one else agreed. Instead, they voted unanimously to nominate the three buildings as Structures of Merit.

At the October meeting, 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 was present at the October meeting and asked the commission that they not file for preservation status, noting that they’d gotten word of the meeting at the last minute.

Last week, commissioners made the nominations official, filing Statements of Official Action designating the apartments as Structures of Merit.

At the same meeting, the commission got word that the landowners have filed an appeal of the decision, which will be heard by the City Council on March 24.

Even if the owners lose the appeal, they can file for the buildings to be demolished claiming, for example, economic hardship. The designation will likely, at the very least, slow the process.

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

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