An 18,000 square foot office building with ground floor retail is coming to Pico Boulevard after the Planning Commission approved permits for the project earlier this month. While several commissioners expressed disappointment that the project at 2929 Pico Blvd does not include any new housing, Commissioner Richard McKinnon was the only person to vote against granting the permit.

“This looks like a corporate office block that’s just been dropped into the landscape,” McKinnon said. He said the project missed the opportunity for more residential development. “I don’t understand the thinking behind it at all, really.”
The site is currently home to a vacant auto repair lot and small one-story building between Yorkshire and Dorchester Avenue. Plans for the new 150-feet long, contemporary building include a glass facade on the ground floor with 8,396 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Current plans leave space between the building and sidewalk for outdoor seating and large planters. A staff report on the project said employees of the offices would create a “consistent customer flow” for a restaurant and contribute to pedestrian activity on the street.

“The (neighborhood commercial) zoning district was intended to maintain and enhance small-scale neighborhood shopping districts that provide daily goods and services easily accessible from surrounding residential neighborhoods while also serving a sub-regional role,” said the report. “This District provides for a scale and character of development that is pedestrian-oriented and which tends to attract and promote a walk-in clientele.”

The “neighborhood commercial” or “NC” district only allows Tier 1 projects, so only about 15 apartments of 700 square foot could likely be developed on the site if the owner, Reddhill, LLC, decided to build housing instead, according to a staff analysis. Planning Manager Jing Yeo said the stretch of Pico Boulevard near the project is mostly commercial, with single-family homes to the north.

The office building was designed by Gwynne Pugh, the architect behind the new Courtyard Marriott and Hampton Inn hotels at the corner of 5th Street and Colorado Boulevard. The Santa Monica architect is also involved with the $250 million redevelopment of Queen Mary Island in Long Beach and helped design the downtown Expo light rail stop. Pugh told the commission the modular building will take on a new character as ground floor tenants fill in the space.

The two-story structure will be about 32 feet tall. A two-level underground garage will have 61 car parking spaces and 18 bicycle parking spaces for office workers and customers.

“The site is designed with vehicular and loading access taken from the alley (Pico Place), maximizing the street frontage for pedestrian circulation,” said the staff report. An environmental report found the project would generate a net 604 average daily car trips.

The owner of nearby McCabe’s Guitar Shop at 3101 Pico Boulevard wrote to the City asking for a traffic light between the businesses to provide a safe left turn opportunity and slow traffic on the busy thoroughfare.

“Slowing traffic will give the drivers a bit of time to notice the businesses,” wrote Espie Riskin, vice president of McCabe and Camp Inc.

Commissioner Leslie Lambert echoed concerns from nearby residents that 29th Street and Pico Boulevard could use a traffic light.

“We’re going to see Pico change over the years and that’s reality,” Lambert said.

Other commissioners said they hope that change will include more apartments along the boulevard.

“Generally speaking, I would actually love to see this location end up with ground floor retail with ten or fifteen units above,” Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy said. “To me, that would be the ideal scenario.”

With the approved Development Review Permit and Conditional Use Permit, the project is expected to contribute the following fees: $313,772 for transportation impacts, $215,517 for affordable housing, $39,662 for parks, $42,903 for child care and $37,708 for cultural arts.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press