DTSM: New plans hope to generate excitement on the Promenade. Clara Harter

As part of a long-term plan to transform the Promenade into a more vibrant, unique and experiential destination, City Council altered zoning ordinances to help bring a host of new business types to the Promenade.

The new permissible land uses include childcare services, pet stores, hotels, medical and dental offices, tattoo parlors, cinemas and theaters, convention centers and general personal services. The zoning changes also gives businesses more flexibility to utilize rooftop, second floor and alleyway spaces.

These changes are the first step in Downtown Santa Monica Inc.’s Third Street Promenade Stabilization and Economic Vitality Plan. The plan seeks to revitalize the Promenade area with a diverse mix of retail, dining, services, and entertainment options that will attract both visitors and locals to the area. Long-term plan proposals include a cultural center and a car free town square at 3rd St and Arizona Ave.

While Council ultimately voted unanimously to approve the proposed zoning changes, members expressed worries about some of the new business types and emphasized a desire to ensure that safety and cleanliness remain a top priority Downtown.

One business type that several council members noted concerns about was liquor stores.

“Liquor stores, I just have a problem with that,” said Councilmember Brock. “I don’t understand how that’s a desired use on the Third Street Promenade now, in the past or in the future.”

City staff clarified that while a typical corner style liquor store might not be considered a desirable use, this zoning shift would equally allow for high end alcohol stores selling fine whiskeys or tequilas.

This difference gets at the crux of the issue in revitalizing Downtown Santa Monica, which is that the City has limited control over the specific businesses that landlords choose to sign leases with.

There is a desire to decrease the number of generic chain stores and bring more unique stores and small businesses to the Promenade. However, the lengthy requirements of a Conditional Use Permit for many business types alongside high rents often means only chain stores have the time and resources to open a space.

By lessening permit requirements, DTSM and the City seek to make it easier for new exciting businesses to open on the Promenade, but recognize that this lessens their control over exactly what businesses open.

“By going from a conditioning permitted use to a permitted use we do lose any ability to review it. If it meets the definition of that particular use, then it’s permitted, and that’s part of the objective to make it easier for these users to come in so they don’t have to go through a lengthy entitlement process,” said David Martin, director of the community development department. “We really can’t have it both ways where we want to remove the entitlement process, but then also want to have discretion over the use.”

The zoning changes apply through December 2022, at which point Council will consider a permanent zoning ordinance. This gives Council the opportunity to observe the effects of zoning changes in practice and make alterations if there are negative impacts observed from certain business types.

“I think that by giving these landlords more options, it will reinvigorate their businesses and their properties potentially, and then get us in a direction where we can go somewhere with a larger vitality plan, beyond just the clean and safe streets that we need to focus on right now,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich.

In addition to these zoning changes, Council also authorized the City Manager to negotiate with DTSM, Inc. on frequency of use of space, permit fees, revenue share opportunities for use of Lot 27 and Arizona Avenue, and Promenade vending program. This is part of the Vitality Plan’s vision to bring more events, art activations and community programming on and around the Promenade.

While the bulk of Council discussion focused on the zoning changes and new business types, public comment highlighted a range of other issues related to the Promenade.

In response to their concerns and other feedback council members have heard regarding the Downtown area, Councilmember Gleam Davis created a motion to direct staff to research several issues, which was approved unanimously.

Staff was directed to research how the City could better contribute to a clean and safe Downtown, such as potentially deploying additional public safety personnel. Staff was also directed to study circulation and traffic issues Downtown. Lastly, staff was directed to facilitate increased stakeholder discussions regarding desired changes on the Promenade.

Clara@smdp.com