Barry Cassily

Special to the Daily Press

Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) held its first public outreach meeting this past Sunday in the parking lot of Oakwood’s First Baptist Church, which they recently purchased in partnership with Century Affordable Development, Inc. for $11.8 million.

Despite modest attendance, CCSM Executive Director Tara Barausklas stated that an attempt had been made to distribute fliers to notify residents in the immediate area and assured attendees that more meetings would follow as the plans for developing the site were still evolving.

The small crowd included Oakwood community leader Naomi Nightingale and other original members of the Save Venice organization who had lobbied for the site’s historic designation after it was sold to the Penske family in 2017.

That petition was unanimously denied by the city’s cultural Heritage Commission, a denial subsequently reaffirmed, again unanimously, by the city’s Planning, Land Mse and Management committee. Then Councilmember Mike Bonin, who sat on the committee, argued that the designation was not necessary as the Penske’s plans would “preserve the facade and aesthetic, achieving many of the goals of designation.”

Later that same year, a second petition was submitted again calling for the property to be designated as historic, and this time the city reversed its initial decision and voted to approve the petition – thus designating the church as historic and separately designating the parking lots historic as well.

The Penskes subsequently put the property back on the market.

According to Barausklas, CCSM plans to build a 60 unit low income development on the parking lots, and the church itself would be converted to a community center. CCSM is also considering converting the church’s existing classrooms to housing units. Ms. Nightingale expressed a desire to have the church structure serve as a large community meeting space that could accommodate 200-300 people, a suggestion that was met with enthusiasm by the crowd.

During the meeting, some attendees were concerned over the size of the project, given the neighborhood’s current height limit of 30 feet for a flat roof — roughly three stories — making the inclusion of 60 units on just 5 buildable lots seem challenging. CCSM representatives said that land use consultants they had hired would be better able to address the issue.

Some attendees raised questions over how development on the historically designated parking lots would even be possible and whether CCSM would use an environmental impact report to override that designation. Barausklas replied that CCSM’s consultants believed there was a “less cumbersome” way around the designation, but did not provide further details.

Attendees also voiced concerns that the church would be Community Corporation of Santa Monica’s first project in Venice, to which Barausklas replied that CCSM, in collaboration with Safe Place for Youth [SPY], is also one of the 5 shortlisted developers being considered for the Metro Yard Development (the current site of Venice’s Bridge Home which SPY co-manages).

“We had almost forgotten about that project,” she said, explaining that it had been almost 3 years since there had been communications between Metro and applicants.

If CCSM were awarded the Metro development in addition to building the First Baptist Church project, CCSM by reasonable estimates could be the largest developer operating in Venice.

Published in partnership with the Westside Current