FUTURE: This image depicts what a new development on Arizona Avenue (left) will look like. (Rendering courtesy City of Santa Monica)

The Santa Monica Plaza, a proposed development at 4th/5th/Arizona, took another tentative step forward Wednesday night with a 4-1 vote by the Planning Commission.

With two members absent, the Commission recommended council continue negotiations with developer Metropolitan Pacific Capital for a 12-story project on what is now a pair of parking lots and a bank. While the project was advanced, approval came with some caveats, including additional discussions of the project’s height, density, contents and uses.

The four-hour meeting included hours of public comment with some speakers opposing the project, some opposing it while specifically demanding a park on the land and others endorsing the 184-foot version.

Commissioner Amy Anderson praised the design for its ability to preserve access to the sky and facilitate movement.

“I really like the design, its quite unique, it’s quite thoughtful … I love the open space that it gives us,” she said. “To me it seems the approach to the design is so much about trying to create open spaces, usable open spaces, some private some public, but open space.”

She cautioned the applicant against too robust a performance program on the space, saying it’s value is greater simply as open space, and said she would prefer a larger housing component.

“I agree with concerns of many residents, spent a lot of time talking about the jobs housing balance,” she said. “I would hope to see more housing in this project affordable and market rate, I would prefer to see less office.”

As a group, the Commission wanted more housing and less office space.

“I think that ultimately the city hasn’t demonstrated to us that we need a lot more office space but, housing, housing, housing,” said Commissioner Gerda Newbold. “So I just agree with my fellow commissioners that I think there needs to be a lot more housing in this project.”

Commissioner Richard McKinnon voiced the strongest, and only outright, opposition to the project. He said past public/private partnerships hadn’t always benefited the public. “There’re really hard to get right, it’s the contract between the two and I would say that 95 percent of the time the public gets the raw end of the deal and you don’t get the full capture of the benefits of the arrangement and the private operater gets it and takes it home,” he said.

McKinnon praised the building’s design quality but said it was simply not the right location for a building of its size so he would vote against the project unless it was revised to a substantially smaller option.

Commissioner Carter Rubin said the height of the proposed project was not an issue for him but he was more concerned with balancing the uses of the building.

“I want to make sure we divorce the height question from the traffic question, because they’re not explicit related,” he said. “It’s what you put in the building that might generate traffic and how much parking you provide.”

While some residents have demanded the property be converted in to a park, Rubin said a park wasn’t necessarily the best use of the land citing the proximity to other parks but he said the project could be used to fund construction of park space where there was greater need.

Parking also emerged as a significant point for the commission with multiple members asking for more details as to how the project fits with the downtown specific and citywide parking plans.

“With the parking program I have a lot of trouble with what’s being proposed here because it appears to me to be an expansion of parking in the downtown core and our preliminary policy is to create new opportunities not in the downtown core, at least not construct new opportunities in the downtown core but in the periphery,” said Chair Jason Parry.

Commissioners Jennifer Kennedy and Jim Ries were absent.

The discussion came during a “float-up” process, a preliminary step that occurs before the developers finalize the project and begin feasibility or environmental studies. With the Commission’s recommendation, the next step is a hearing before council in the coming months. At that point, council will give feedback and assuming they choose to continue with the project, staff said the process will continue through 2016 with multiple opportunities for public comment.

editor@www.smdp.com

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...

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