Santa Monica’s massive new planning document has cleared a major hurdle and now heads to the City Council. The Planning Commission voted 6 to 1 Wednesday to approve the final draft of the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) with several recommendations that the Council can either keep or nix.
“This is astonishing,” Commissioner Richard McKinnon said of the plan. “It’s extensive. It’s deep. I’m not certain any other city in the United States could have done what’s happened here. The outcome doesn’t always satisfy everyone but this is a forward looking document and it’s about managing the change that goes on in a city regardless of what people want.”
The DCP faced criticism from both sides of the development spectrum – slow growth activists complained it would result in a level of unsustainable development while lobbyists for developers fought for taller height allowances, fewer fees and less stringent affordable housing requirements.
For the past thirty years, new buildings have been allowed to go up to 84 feet in the downtown area. The new guidelines in the DCP carve area between Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard and Interstate 10 into separate districts. While new apartment complexes near the Expo Line will be able to reach the historic height, new developments along Ocean Avenue will be limited to 50 feet (about five stories).
The Commission recommends a few additions to the plan, including an expedited process for housing projects to ease developer’s concerns over other requirements. They also added additional incentives for 100 percent affordable housing projects that included height and density bonuses.
“I am so proud of this plan,” Chair Amy Anderson said. “I spend my days thinking about the affordability crisis … I think this DCP does such an amazing job of changing land use patterns in terms of density and mobility options and by doing that creates a lot of access and opportunity.”
The Planning Commission narrowly voted to remove a special overlay for three potentially large projects headed to downtown: a remodel of the Miramar Hotel at 1133 Ocean Avenue, a mixed-use hotel designed by Frank Gehry at 101 Santa Monica Boulevard and a City-owned project at 4th Street and Arizona Avenue. Four Commissioners voted to delete language that would have allowed those projects to reach a maximum height of 130 feet with greater floor area ratios. With the exception, the two new hotels would have been more than twice as tall as developments along the ocean front edge of the city.
“We shouldn’t open the gate for exceptions right out of the box,” Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi said.
Without the special overlay, each of the large projects will have to file for an amendment to the plan. The Planning Commission and then the City Council will have an opportunity to consider each project individually. Voters could also potentially put those projects to a referendum.
“I feel that in particular on Ocean Avenue we’ve kept things at 50 feet because we’re trying to retain that scale and retain that graduation downtown as it comes off the bluffs,” Commissioner Nina Fresco said. “In the 1950’s, if you look at the plan, it was all about high rises and there was a huge movement against high rises on the beach, high rises on Ocean Avenue. People realized that was the Miami Beach prototype that we didn’t want for Santa Monica. We wanted something different… we are in a very fragile turning point now where we should really take the time to weigh and look at these projects one at a time.”
Before heading to the Council, several other commissions and boards will review the plan, including the Landmarks Commission (June 12), the Housing Commission (June 15), and the Architectural Review Board (June 19).
The Council will deliberate the plan July 10, 11 and 25. All meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall Council Chambers located at 1685 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.