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A newly formulated Planning Commission approved development agreements for two new buildings owned by NMS Propertiesthis week.

NMS has applied to build an 84 foot (six-story) building of approximately 52,545 total square feet, 6,345 square feet of ground floor commercial space, 64 residential units and 105 parking spaces within a three-level subterranean parking garage at 1415 5th St. The second project is a 60 foot (five story), 102,500 total square feet building with 13,800 square feet of ground floor commercial space, 100 residential units, and 232 parking spaces within a three-level subterranean parking garage.

In both cases, staff negotiated development agreements that provided community benefits in exchange for the ability to build taller and more densely than would be otherwise allowed.

In both cases, the commission asked for additional benefits beyond those presented with particular focus placed on affordable units, the potential value of the projects if approved and environmental concerns. The meeting was the first for newly appointed commissioners Mario Fonda-Bonardi and Nina Fresco.

At the meeting, the developer’s representative Dave Rand with Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac LLP gave an impassioned defense of the benefits already offered.

“This project presents a greater, more robust package of community benefits than any housing project relative to its size that this commission has seen in a very long time, maybe ever,” he said of the 5th Street project.

He cautioned the commission against pushing for too much and endangering the entire project as the value of the benefits, as determined by the city, already exceeded the city’s estimate of the project’s increased value if an agreement were signed.

“The risk you run commissioner in an environment where everyone agrees we desperately need housing, you push it too far and the project doesn’t get built at all. You have to draw the line somewhere and I think we’ve drawn the line at a very progressive spot…,” Rand said.

According to the City’s analysis, the development agreement would increase the value of the project by about $4.9 million while the total value of the benefits was estimated at $4.9 million.

Commissioner Richard McKinnon said he fundamentally questioned value assessments after the analysis of the Village Trailer Park project undervalued that project by $60 million.

“That is what has changed my view for all time when people come and tell me nothing more is feasible in a project,” he said.

McKinnon praised the 5th Street project for solving perpetual Santa Monica problems of light and space, and he praised an unusual, diverse mix of units and design, but still advocated for more requirements, saying the city had to squeeze every concession it could from the project.

Newly appointed commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi took issue with the building’s design and requested the building be reduced in height. After being rebuffed on a request for a 10 foot reduction, he revised his request to a reduction of 4 feet but his request failed to gain traction. He was the only commissioner to vote no on the project.

Ultimately the agreement for the first project was approved with direction to explore ways to add units if permitting rules changed, increase sustainability measures, add one additional affordable unit and evaluate uses for the proposed courtyard.

The Lincoln Boulevard project received far less discussion, but the developer said the proposed deal favored the city far more than the prior project.

According to the City’s analysis, the property will increase in value by $2.2 million due to the agreement, and the developer has agreed to $8.5 million worth of benefits.

Fonda-Bonardi actually praised the size of the Lincoln project, saying the proposal to increase the height by 10 feet is justified by the request for affordable housing.

“There’s no inflation of size it actually fits,” he said. “What you’re paying for in size you’re actually paying for in affordable units.”

He also requested an exploration of using recycled water to irrigate edible landscaping.

“If you move the food source closer to where its consumed you reduce the actual total amount of water that’s needed to produce that object so its an efficiency question,” he said.

The commission unanimously approved the Lincoln project.

Three public speakers argued against the projects, in specific and in general. One spoke in favor of both projects.

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