The Fairmont Miramar project has moved to the next phase of the approval process and is set to be discussed by Santa Monica City Council following a 6-1 vote from local Planning Commissioners Wednesday night.
Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi was the only dissenting vote.
If approved by council, developers would renovate the existing hotel, which opened in 1921, to include 312 new guest rooms, 60 for-sale luxury condominium units, complete with retail space and 14,000 square-feet of publicly-accessible open space. The project also intends to provide funding and land to build a minimum of 42 affordable housing units, located in a five-story apartment building across 2nd Street that would be developed by Community Corporation of Santa Monica.
The prospective hotel expansion has received mixed reactions from community members. Though there was no opportunity for public comment this week, commissioners noted they shared the community’s concerns as they dissected the project’s size and repeatedly emphasized its needs to be completed in a timely manner.
While he described the hotel as a big fortress that he doesn’t like, Commissioner Richard McKinnon said deciding to approve the project is probably the toughest decision he’s had to make in nearly a decade.
“I would probably vote against this if it had come up six months ago or asked for considerable reductions. And if that didn’t happen, I would have voted against it. And in fact, this goes to the reason I’m supporting it tonight,” McKinnon said. “At this moment, the health crisis across this country and around the world is out of control, and it’s very clear that the next few years are going to be extremely distressing and difficult … And I can assure you that our economic impact is nowhere near as bad, yet, as it’s going to be. Things have happened that haven’t played out; jobs are being lost; businesses are going under, and you can’t lose 30 or 40 million people to unemployment.”
“That leads to a crisis of confidence,” McKinnon added. “And I believe that we’re in the worst economic crisis for 100 years. We just haven’t quite seen it yet but the issues around the world are there. This (renovation) is something which says to people, ‘There is an investment. There are jobs. There is a future,’ and we need it to begin. That’s why I want it to be on a timetable.”
The commission mostly agreed with McKinnon and voiced a need to get the process underway as soon as possible.
“There (are) always hurdles in this process that we don’t anticipate and we do this on a regular basis,” commissioner Jim Ries said. “So, let’s do the best we can to put a schedule together but I just don’t think that we can hold their feet to the fire too much.”
Fonda-Bonardi said action from city councilmembers could come months from now and it could be four years from then until construction is started.
“You can chop it up any way you want but I don’t want to be sitting there at 6.9 years and saying, ‘Oh my god, they’re showing up and asking for an extension,’” he said.
Commissioners said they were confident this wouldn’t be the case, before Commissioner Shawn Landres added, “We may be voting for something that is highly aspirational — I want to caution that I think that we have certainly loaded up this set of recommendations and I’m mindful that the ultimate negotiations will be conducted by the City Council — but I think we’ve done a good job here, given the project before us, of addressing the really key issues.”
Landres said he believes the commission has set the project up for success and he believes it’s an improvement over the previous two iterations that will bring a great deal to the community, including jobs and more.
“There’s some good things about this,” Fonda-Bonardi said, “but in my mind, it’s still quite not what we want at this time so I would have to vote against it.”
Ries said the project is consistent with municipal zoning codes so maybe the commission should analyze the height restrictions that are currently in place.
“But at this point, the project is well designed. It’s got a beautiful design,” he said.
Ries said it could be a little smaller but there are benefits that outweigh the size.
“I think it’s a good project. I don’t think it’s a perfect project,” Commissioner Elisa Paster said as she detailed her excitement for the project’s affordable housing aspect and how she expects the renovation to be a benefit to the city.