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News, Development, Santa Monica

Santa Monica Development Reform Begins To Take Shape

Posted Jan. 11, 2013, 9:17 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

Members of the public have taken to the podium inside Council Chambers on many occasions in the hope to convince Council members to delay one of many development proposals presented to the dais in the past few years. Those voices were heard as the City Council delved into development reform Tuesday with a series of decisions altering how City Hall prioritizes planned growth throughout Santa Monica.

Council members discussed development reform for more than five hours Tuesday night, tackling an agenda item that Council members had tabled a few weeks earlier. Though no overwhelming changes were made, the council did alter how the development process will play out.

A response to a glutton of development agreements (DA), the policy decision is effectively a victory for slow growth proponents who argued Santa Monica was developing too much too fast.

“There is limited capacity to process Development Agreement applications from the perspective of (Architectural Review Board), Planning Commission and City Council workload and agenda management,” City staff stated. “Staff time needed to thoroughly evaluate a complex project and negotiate Development Agreement terms, and the availability of evenings to calendar community meetings in light of the broad range of public meetings involving land use issues.”

Under the new policy, community members and residents will have greater input in the development process, while only a limited number of projects will be fast-tracked.

Though not a final decree, the council’s action Jan. 8 will change the process of how developments are considered by planners at City Hall. With 32 currently pending DA applications proposing a gross total of 3.55 million square footage of development in Santa

Monica, the City will now reconsider how it fosters growth while adhering to the goals of Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).

Council members entered a series of votes in providing its policy direction.

Under the new policy direction, only a handful of development projects would be fast-tracked through the planning process. Such projects are likely to be small in scale and with limited or minimal circulation and traffic impacts.

Also approved: a new process adding Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Planning Commission float-ups, respectively, as the second and third steps after the community meeting. The application would stay with the Planning Commission in the fourth stage for a public hearing before heading to the council and concluding with a second look by ARB.

Interestingly enough, a proposed development not subject to environmental review may skip the float-up process altogether.

The policy directions come in light of an earlier recommendation by City staff to impose a moratorium on DAs. However, pursuing a moratorium was a rather complicated process, City staff realized. Accordingly, Council members moved forward by taking the first steps in promoting a slow growth process.

Community members and residents may now be involved with development deliberations much earlier in the process.

While the policy to slow down growth may be well received by the community, some businesses were not too thrilled. A few local businesses and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce spoke to Council members at the Jan. 8 meeting, informing them of their respective stance that a slow growth policy will have a negative impact. For example, developers may no longer seek to come to Santa Monica. Further, those who do come here or already are here may have to incur greater costs while enduring an extended development process.

Of the 32 pending DAs, 12 are for, according to City staff, “larger mixed-use projects and visitor-serving uses such as hotels and auto dealerships.”

Of the remaining, 19 “are for mixed-use projects located within a one half mile radius of a major transit stop.” The other project is a new science building at Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences.

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