Downtown Santa Monica (File photo)

By Kate Cagle

Daily Press Staff Writer

City planners are hammering out the final draft of the Downtown Community Plan, or DCP: the comprehensive document that will guide development in downtown Santa Monica for the next 20 years.

After two meetings and ten hours of deliberations, the Planning Commission has signed off on an urban design strategy to protect the 3rd Street Promenade and nearby historic buildings within the Bayside Conservation District. The strategy will limit the number of stories on new buildings to maintain the character of the district.

“We are transferring all the height that was previously permitted to the transit area by the Expo Line,” Senior Strategic Planner Peter James said.

While most new development in the district will stay relatively low, the Commission is still split on just how high to allow three major development projects: The Miramar Hotel, the Frank Gehry hotel at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard and the city-owned development at 4th Street and Arizona.

James says simple math may lead to a compromise on the size and scale of the buildings as planners crunch numbers and figure out how the city can hit goals for increasing the number of apartments throughout Santa Monica.

“The planners need to sharpen their pencils and review all of the years of feedback we’ve gotten on the plan.” James said.

Over the past five years, that feedback includes a new website, 32 public meetings, three workshops, focus groups and an online survey. The DCP covers 229 acres bordered by Wilshire, the Freeway, Lincoln Blvd., and Ocean Ave.

The Planning Commission has heavily debated just how high commercial developers should be allowed to build in areas outside of the Bayside. The commission favors height limits for new construction but also wants to increase the city’s stock of affordable housing.

That balance is leading to compromises on streets like busy Lincoln Boulevard, where mixed-use residential apartments will likely be permitted to build up to six stories, but non-residential buildings will be limited to five. Planning commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi says he’s concerned more office space could make traffic congestion on Lincoln Boulevard even worse.

“I’m actually quite concerned that we are building the ‘Great Wall of Lincoln’ one brick at a time,” Fonda-Bonardi said, citing concerns that traffic has already been slowed by the nearby Expo Line and freeway traffic. “And then we’re going to build even more on this poor boulevard that is one sandwich short of Bay Cities clogging up 6 miles of Lincoln.”

Commissioners also want to see increased affordable housing and environmental requirements for developers building residential units in the city. Commissioner Richard McKinnon emphasized his concerns that “the culture that’s being created here by the things that are being built is a very expensive culture that only very few people can afford.”

Planners will come back with their final draft in the spring of 2017. If it get’s approval from the Planning Commission, it will move to the City Council for additional scrutiny.