Photo: Todd James

Tesla’s 62 stall Supercharger project in Santa Monica appears to have stalled out after City Council approved an Emergency Interim Zoning Ordinance that banned all nonresidential developments in Santa Monica and single unit dwellings in the city’s commercial zones, but local leaders still believe the project could be completed in the future.

In a 5-2 vote earlier this month, Planning Commissioners approved a Conditional Use Permit that would allow the operation of a 24-hour, self-service electric vehicle recharging facility complete with solar canopies, restrooms and support equipment split between two project sites on either side of an alley near 14th Court.

Noelani Derrickson and her peers at Tesla lauded the project, which would replace an auto dealership and an adjacent empty parking lot, as an opportunity to provide charging capacities to residents who currently live in an apartment and lack the means to quick charging methods. However, Commissioner Leslie Lambert said she was greatly distressed by the project and its impact on the prospective construction of housing in the local area, and she wasn’t the only one who had issues with the proposal.

Planning Commission Chair Shawn Landres, who was one of the two no-votes, highlighted flaws in the project’s solution to handle automotive and pedestrian traffic in the area. He reiterated his point this week and said it also felt hypocritical to recommend that Council ban all commercial developments in the city one week and then, the next week, say except this one.

However, Council did exempt some auto businesses from the rules.

A majority of the council felt it necessary to have an exemption for dealerships parcels located on Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln and 20th street, because otherwise there would be no allowable expansion on auto dealerships with outdated sites.

Councilmember Gleam Davis said during the discussion that she agreed with the residents who called in to say auto dealerships provide good paying jobs, amenities to residents and they are low traffic generators in peak traffic hours.

Derrickson tried to defend the Tesla project on the same grounds when she called into Council’s meeting during public comment to once again highlight the project’s many amenities, which she said will supplement the thousands of units the City is currently mandated to build by the state.

“Tesla has been working closely with Santa Monica planning staff for over half a year now, on a Tesla, electric vehicle fast charging station that includes solar energy and battery storage within the mid-city neighborhood,” Derrickson said while she urged City Council to exempt the proposed Superchargers from the development ban.

Despite the persuasive argument, Councilmembers unanimously voted to institute a temporary hold on commercial projects like Tesla’s and exempt auto dealerships.

McKeown noted this week that if Tesla had proposed a Supercharger location with housing above it, then the project would have likely been welcomed.

“The Tesla site is at the intersection of major bus routes, with two bus stops, one on the boulevard and one on 14th Street. And while EV charging is a laudable amenity, one I have championed over the years, it could be done in a mixed-use format that provides housing as well,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said this week. “If we’d exempted their existing proposal from the temporary commercial-only moratorium, we might instead have had to swap into our Housing Element Suitable Sites Inventory other parcels where residents live currently. I’d prefer to both protect current residents from redevelopment of their homes for what would likely be less-affordable housing, albeit more of it, and provide EV charging in a format that makes wiser use of scarce land in a crucial location.”

The project was expected to break ground in summer until City Council put a speed bump in the road, but those wishing to see it come to fruition may still get their wish, according to McKeown, who added, “I’ve already been working with City staff to see if we can get Tesla and the property owner to come back with such a project.”