Miramar: While the proposal has been approved, it may take years to work its way through the review process. Courtesy image

An expansive redevelopment of the 100-year-old Miramar Hotel project is one major step closer to commencement this week, after the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved plans that would see the site transform with larger guest rooms and the addition of 60 luxury condos, a new affordable housing complex on 2nd Street, and three levels of underground parking, along with street-level improvements like a public green space.

Following the decision, project representatives Ellis O’Connor and Dustin Peterson issued a statement saying they were looking forward to the project moving into its next stage.

“We appreciate the California Coastal Commission’s unanimous approval of our project and are incredibly humbled by, and grateful for, the extraordinary outpouring of support across the community,” Connor and Peterson wrote. “We look forward to writing the next chapter in the Miramar’s storied history.”

The Coastal Commission’s hearing to discuss the project, now more than a decade in the making, lasted two-and-a-half hours on Thursday afternoon, March 10, and included an outpouring of public support from residents, business owners and stakeholders including representatives from the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Santa Monica, Unite Here! Local 11, and other groups.

One outspoken supporter was Peter Trinh, Vice Chair of Downtown Santa Monica.

“It’s astonishing how long this project has taken and we hope that you can help to officially put forward this, so Santa Monica can receive an enormous community and economic benefit that this development will bring,” Trinh said. “We’re in an unprecedented recovery time all over and Santa Monica needs a beacon project like this to help it with forward thinking and entrepreneurship as much as possible.” Trinh called the project a “role model” corporate partner.

During the hearing, detractors for the project were few.

According to Coastal Commission staff, six letters of opposition were delivered to the Commission by last Friday, March 4; 101 letters of support were delivered by the same time.

“Staff has received correspondence from residents of the building immediately inland of the project site expressing concern with the potential for this project impact private ocean views visible from the upper floors of an existing private residence,” a Commission staffer described. “However, as discussed in the addendum for this matter, private views are not protected by the policies of both the Coastal Act and the City certified LUP. In this case, the project will not result in significant impact to public ocean views, which are protected by the Coastal Act and certified LUP.”

One resident who spoke in opposition was Steve Linett, who said he was the head of a group of 800 residents called Residents Against the Miramar Expansion.

“What I thought this whole thing was supposed to be about [was] the coastline and the Coastal Act, not all these other issues relating to jobs,” Linett said, later adding, “The Coastal Act states that, quote development shall not interfere with the public’s right of access to the sea. The building of the Miramar is going to bring unprecedented gridlock to California Avenue, which is the most important artery leading from Santa Monica to the sea, since it feeds directly into the California Incline and empties out on the beach.” Linett also expressed concern over views.

Steve Hudson, the Coastal Commission District Director for the South Central Coast and South Coast Districts, thanked Peterson and his team for their many years of working to see the project come to fruition.

“This was a complex project, and there were issues as it was originally proposed. They had been working for many years with the city but there were still some issues and one of those primary issues was that, as this project originally came to us, there were no provisions for low cost overnight accommodations,” Hudson said. “Not either on site or any sort of in-lieu fee. So, that was a major point of many of our discussions with the applicant. I’d just like to thank them again for entering those discussions with an open mind; that was much appreciated.”

According to Coastal Commission staff who spoke at the hearing, the housing is part of a plan to offset the construction of 60 new luxury condominium units and 201 “new” hotel rooms (largely replacing rooms that are currently in the project, though the Coastal Commission classifies them as new).

“The construction of high cost hotels in the Coastal Zone may conflict with multiple Coastal Act and certified LUP [Land Use Plan] policies requiring that the lower cost hotels shall be protected, encouraged and, where feasible, provided,” a Coastal Commission staff member described. “In past actions, the Commission has required applicants to provide at least 25 percent of new overnight accommodations at lower cost. This approach would require the applicant to provide at least 51 of the proposed 201 new high-cost hotel rooms at lower cost rates.”

But, according to an estimate from a consultant hired by developers, locking in 51 of the new hotel rooms at a lower rate would not be economically feasible for developers; Miramar has proposed to build the 42 affordable housing units as well as provide $5.34 million to the City of Santa Monica in fees for community improvement projects. The Commission also requested an additional $6.477 million of “in-lieu” fees to help offset the lack of low-cost hotel rooms — a fee that, due to an increase in building costs, has gone up more than 25 percent since it was first proposed in 2015. Project representatives agreed to the change.

Commissioners were also effusive in their praise of the project.

“I’m incredibly excited to be able to be here and support the staff recommendations and approve this model project and I’m happy to make the motion to approve,” Commissioner Linda Escalante said, adding, “I do think that this is proof that, yes, we can: We can intentionally increase good quality affordable housing in the Coastal Zone and be inclusive and welcoming for the public access and provide good union jobs and economic development — and all of these while building with climate change and our environment top of mind.”

The Miramar project is not quite ready to break ground. Following the Coastal Commission Permit issuance on Thursday, developers now move on to design review with the City of Santa Monica, including going before the architectural review board and landmarks commission, a process expected to take months to years.