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New plans for the site of arguably the most controversial Santa Monica development in recent years include reoccupation and an addition, totaling 203,816 square feet of office space, according to documents filed with City Hall earlier this month.

Hines, the Texas-based developer whose larger project included nearly 375,000 square feet of office space but also 427 apartments and $32 million in community benefits, is no longer involved with the property.

The Hines project was approved in a 4-3 council vote that was later overturned by a successful referendum from residents who feared the project was too big and would create too much traffic.

Lincoln Property Company, based in Los Angeles, is now acting as the developer and CSHV Pen Factory owns the land.

Unlike the Hines project, which exceeded City Hall’s land-use limits and therefore needed approval from City Council, the Pen Factory project can proceed relatively uninhibited because it stays within the code.

“The project can be approved through an administrative approval, which is a code compliance check by staff, then would only need to be reviewed by the ARB (for design review),” said city planner Jing Yeo.

The Architectural Review Board (ARB) won’t be able to negotiate for additional community benefits.

“It looks like the scenario where someone rehabs the existing building and hires some designers to make it a desirable workplace — but all internal to the site — is coming to fruition,” said Councilmember Pam O’Connor, who supported the Hines project. “No public amenities would be provided and the former industrial site will become more like a gated suburban office campus…except for the two good things — it will be next to a rail station and will provide jobs.”

O’Connor said that commercial developers likely won’t want or need to add housing for decades.

“Just sad that this opportunity to also provide housing and create a mixed use walkable community — in a time of a housing affordability, and availability crisis — has been lost,” she said.

Mayor Kevin McKeown, who opposed the Hines project, sees the reoccupation as the lesser of two evils.

“This project, even as adaptive reuse, will disappoint many of us, but the original Hines proposal failed in even more massive (and likely more permanent) ways to make appropriate use of a challenging site,” he said.

McKeown said that Hines project showed those who’d pushed for more housing and less commercial restrictions in previous land-use documents were correct.

“With a new Council, I hope we can now make amendments to reflect our community’s true need, which is for more housing,” he said. “Meanwhile, the adaptive reuse of the old factory is unimaginative and falls short in delivering needed street connections — but may, once we amend our Plans, mean that other properties in the area will have to create the concentration of housing near the Bergamot Light Rail station that we really need.”

The currently vacant building includes 196,317 square feet of space. The proposal would include reducing square footage in some parts of the building, while adding in others, reaching the new total of nearly 204,000 square feet.

Office space is at a premium in Santa Monica, with vacancy rates being among the lowest in the region, city officials have said.
In recent years, Google, Riot Games, Sony Santa Monica Studios, IMAX, and e-Harmony have left, or announced plans to leave, the beachside city.

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