Apartments smaller than 375 square feet are temporarily banned in Santa Monica while City Hall crafts new laws to regulate micro-apartments.

City Council voted Tuesday night to prohibit market-rate micro-apartments in response to developer WS Communities’ plans to build six buildings entirely comprised of units smaller than 375 square feet within a four-block radius downtown. Council said the interim zoning ordinance, which exempts affordable or supportive housing projects, is meant to prevent an overabundance of studios in the city and ensure that new development includes enough larger units for families.

Council will vote on permanent zoning changes before the ordinance expires on May 10.

WS, a spinoff of Neil Shekhter’s NMS Properties, filed applications to build six buildings entirely comprised of studios ranging between 219 and 373 square feet on 5th, 6th and 7th Streets, said Roxanne Tanemori, the City of Santa Monica’s acting planning manager. Four of the applications were filed in January of this year and the other two were filed last July and September.

95 percent of the 362 units WS planned to build, which ranged between 219 and 373 square feet, would have been rented at market rates. Rent for similar-sized WS apartments downtown hovers around $3,000, according to rental listings.

WS initially planned to construct buildings with one-, two- and three-bedroom units on five of the sites, including two affordable buildings, but the developer changed its plans because the projects had become financially unsustainable in the three years that it had been waiting for the City to approve the projects, said WS’ attorney, Neill Brower. SROs provided a higher unit count and therefore made the projects more profitable, he added.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown said he believes developers need to build housing that meets the demand for family apartments, but is not entirely opposed to SROs.

“I actually believe that SROs are a valid part of the mix of housing for … Santa Monica,” McKeown said. “My concern is the sudden application for six whole buildings full and what that would do to the mix of units downtown for a decade or more to come. It will take us forever for us to catch up on two- and three-bedrooms.”

Davis said she thinks SROs could be valuable for young singles, particularly if they are built on the co-living model. Co-living companies, which offer apartments with shared kitchens and bathrooms, have proliferated in Los Angeles other coastal cities with high rents.

Such companies typically include community programming for residents, Davis said. One of the reasons City staff recommended a temporary ban on SROs is that an over-concentration of the units would not create a neighborhood environment that “promotes social connectedness and wellbeing.”

In a letter to Council, Brower said the number of SROs WS plans to build represent only 16 percent of pending developments downtown, a proportion that does not qualify as an “over-concentration” of micro-apartments, as City staff said. Brower said prohibiting SROs would deprive the city of housing that it needs and contradict several state laws meant to encourage development.

“The (ordinance) is legally unsustainable and exposes the City to substantial liability,” he said.

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