It could soon get a lot easier for Santa Monica homeowners to remodel their houses and replace their landscaping.

The Architectural Review Board is planning to delegate approval of some projects to city staff, which would make it easier and faster for residents and businesses to renovate their properties. It would also allow the board to devote greater focus to larger projects.

“We’re seeing more projects in the city than we usually do, and part of why we’re bringing this to you is so you can spend more time on more important projects,” Stephanie Reich, the city’s urban designer, told board members as they discussed expanding staff authority Wednesday.

Reich said many property owners have been renovating their buildings’ façades in the past two years. Remodels to 1960s-era apartment buildings are particularly common.

Homeowners also regularly apply to add square footage to the backs of their houses or to construct freestanding rear units, she said.

The board often automatically approves façade remodels or rear additions or suggests only a few changes. Property owners could start their projects more quickly if staff reviewed their applications, Reich said.

Staff would ensure that property owners used high-quality materials in façade renovations, said city planner Russell Bunim. For example, Santa Monica enforces a de facto ban on white vinyl windows, he said.

Similarly, it would be easier for property owners to add or switch out landscaping if staff could review applications for new landscaping up to 1,000 square feet, Reich said.

Streamlining that process could encourage more property owners to replace existing landscaping with drought-tolerant landscaping, she added.

Board member Joshua Rosen asked that staff emphasize the preservation of mature trees when approving landscaping applications.

Reich said it is also very common for businesses to change their signage and recommended that staff review all applications for new signage that comply with the city’s zoning code.

“Signage plays an important role in the beauty of our city, but I think we have a pretty developed signage code,” Rosen said. “This would be an area where I personally would be more willing to let go of our review.”

The Architectural Review Board would still review façade, landscaping, additions or signage changes to historic properties, buildings on the Third Street Promenade or Main Street.

Staff would also be able to require board review if a project appears too substantial or is otherwise not appropriate for administrative review.

madeleine@smdp.com

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