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News, City Council, Development, Santa Monica

Downtown Specific Plan, Bergamot Plan To Return To Santa Monica City Council

Posted Aug. 5, 2013, 9:13 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

After a quiet July where consecutive City Council meetings were convened with the minimum quorum, business might just be usual again come Aug. 13 when two major planning issues – both tabled because of the council’s attendance issues – are expected to be on the docket for debate and discussion at Santa Monica City Hall.

The Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) and Bergamot Area Plan are both expected to be discussed when Council members reconvene Aug. 13. Both items were on the council’s agenda July 9 and 23. However, with only four members present at both meetings, both topics were tabled until Aug. 13 in anticipation a full dais that evening.

As Council members waited it out for enough of them to be on the dais, planning commissioners had essentially spent all summer poring over both plans.

During Planning Commission deliberations and community input of both the DSP and Bergamot Area Plan, an interesting concept made itself apparent: commissioners thought the Bergamot Area could use more density, while a debate brewed amongst city leaders and residents about scaling back plans for more density in the downtown.

When the DSP finally makes its way to the dais, Council members will initially discuss the Plan’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) parameters. Before any final determinations could be made about building heights and density, city leaders must first determine the environmental impacts such buildings would have in Santa Monica’s urban core.

At the core of the DSP discussion are eight “opportunity sites” where “expanded development” would be allowed in exchange for “exceptional community benefits.”

Practically speaking, these eight projects could result in erected structures exceeding current and planned height restrictions, including the revitalized Fairmont Miramar and plans for a new high-rise hotel at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

According to City staff, the opportunity sites are labeled as such “because of their unique ability to provide opportunities for the City to accomplish important policy objectives towards affordable housing, creation of additional open space, cultural facilities, preservation of historic resources, congestion mitigation, and sustainability measures for ongoing reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

A requirement to commencing an environmental review – a pretext for the DSP agenda item – requires council members to define “a stable project description.” Accordingly, density and height restrictions will likely be at the heart of the Aug. 13 debate and deliberation.

While the DSP will continue through the public process for several more months, council members are expected to vote Aug. 13 on whether they should adopt the Bergamot Area Plan.

According to City staff, the Bergamot Area Plan “provides policies and standards for transitioning 142.5 acres of former industrial lands into an arts-focused, transit-oriented, mixed-use pedestrian-oriented neighborhood anchored by the Bergamot Exposition Light Rail Station” and “refines the vision for this new Santa Monica neighborhood called for in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), and establishes policies, standards and guidelines applicable to projects that develop, remodel, or adaptively reuse existing buildings.”

Planning commissioners spent several hours discussing the Bergamot Area Plan before ultimately recommending it to the City Council for approval.

The recommendation did not come without concern, however.

One major issue at least two commissioners had with the plan was its lack of public parks and open space.

Commissioners also worried the plan did not do enough to ensure enough affordable housing would be developed within the Bergamot Station area, hence precluding those who would work there from being able to afford to live there or close by.

A key element of the LUCE is preventing any gains in vehicular traffic with any new development within Santa Monica. Hence, the ability of the city to offer affordable housing to those who would work in Santa Monica could help the LUCE’s goal of no new net vehicular trips during peak hours.

Whether any substantive decisions are made Aug. 13 on the DSP or Bergamot Area Plan remains to be seen. Both issues may still be tabled to a later date if the council again struggles with attendance – only four council members were on the dais at the July 9 and 23 meetings.

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