Project: Critics say the project is too large and is correctly interpreting density rules. Courtesy image

Neighbors may be up in arms over the new Lincoln Center Project that will replace the Gelson’s grocery store in Ocean Park, but complaints over its size and appearance are unlikely to sink the large scale residential project. 

Property owners SanMon Inc., a subsidiary of Balboa Retail Partners, envision a high-density residential development on the site near the intersection of Lincoln and Ocean Park boulevards including 521 housing units divided among 10 structures up to five stories tall. The development — initially presented at about 875,000 square feet when plans were unveiled earlier this year — will replace a Gelson’s grocery store and surface parking lot. It is also designed to include 36,000 square feet of retail (including a grocery store) and 53 very low income residential units, which permits developers to exceed city mandated density limits under a state density bonus. 

Dozens of nearby residents appeared at a February Zoom hearing to voice strong opposition to the plans, formally known as the Lincoln Center Project. Now, months later, many are again pressuring the city to try to downsize or derail the development.

Resident group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) sent out an email blast recently rallying supporters, stating, “There is tremendous community interest and concern over the size and location of this project. Over 2,000 residents have backed a petition to oppose the current project.”

There are two online versions of the petition, with about 250 signatures on the first and 2,000 on the second as of press time. They lay out four points of contention: the project is too large, too tall, removes local retail and will drive traffic to the area.

“This project is too large for this neighborhood and location,” one person who signed the petition wrote. “There has not been a traffic study, but anyone who drives Lincoln can attest to the traffic nightmare this building will cause.”

In its email, SMCLC alleges that the city “rejected” developer plans before they “retroactively ‘deemed’ it complete.” 

According to City of Santa Monica spokesperson Constance Farrell, developers are working with city staff to ensure the project complies with all applicable local rules.

“The project is reviewed at the administrative level through a by-right process that only requires that the project comply with City regulations and severely limits the ways the City can modify the project,” Farrell described in an email to the Daily Press. “It also means that there are not public hearings like Planning Commission or City Council. However, the Architectural Review Board will conduct a design review after the project is approved.”

The project has not yet been formally approved, Farrell went on to state, but developers are working with city staff to ensure the project is within state and local limitations that will deem it a by-right project — meaning it will not be subject to city council or planning commission approval. Were developers to present final plans that exceed limitations, it would push the project into a lengthier public review process. 

“The City is obligated to approve the project if it complies with all City regulations. However, should the applicant choose to request additional modifications (that go beyond what is allowed under State density bonus law), it is possible that those requests must go through a public hearing process,” Farrell described. “Staff has already identified areas where the project does not comply with City regulations and the applicant is in the process of revising their plans to respond to those comments and bring the project plans into compliance.”

If and when the Lincoln Center Project receives its planning approval, it will go before a public hearing at the Architectural Review Board, tasked (in part) to: “Assure that buildings, structures, signs or other developments contribute to the preservation of Santa Monica’s reputation as a place of beauty, spaciousness and quality,” according to its formal description. 

SMCLC wrote in its email that supporters should contact councilmembers, the planning director and city manager to voice disapproval of the project, but Farrell wrote the best opportunity for community feedback would be to contact the planner assigned to the project.

“The public can direct feedback to the planner working on the project, but it is important to note the limitations given the administrative level approval,” Farrell said. 

The planner is Grace Page at