Last Wednesday Santa Monica’s Planning Commission rejected a proposal by architect David Hibbert to construct artist studios at 1630 Stewart Street in the City’s Light Manufacturing District (LMD) by a vote of 5 to 1.
The proposed project consisted of a three-story, 45-foot high, 32,360 square foot building and a parking garage. According to the City staff report, “The proposed building would have three stories, two stories, each with mezzanine levels for the artist studios, over a ground floor level parking garage. The first-floor parking garage would provide parking for the existing production studio building. A single-level subterranean parking garage would provide parking for the 22 artist studios.”
The Commission’s denial of the project stemmed from its concern that it would require a text amendment to the City’s zoning ordinance for the LMD for the project to go forward.
An amendment was needed as the current ordinance only permits 30-foot, two-story buildings and this project is 45 feet tall and has four stories.
Commissioner Arlene Hopkins summed up the consensus of the Commission when she stated, “We’re in the middle of a General Plan update and if we approve a text amendment now, we’re essentially allowing the transformation of the entire LMD. There are many developers watching this, waiting and hoping we’ll approve this and if we do it, the entire LMD will be essentially gone.”
The revision of the City’s General Plan includes an update to the City’s land use element which dictates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space, etc.).
Commissioner Jay Johnson echoed Hopkins by noting, “This text amendment would apply to the entire LMD. I think that it is illogical at this time … because we have to ask ourselves what kind of precedent are we setting if we do it now. The issue is how to reconfigure LMSD as part of the general land use update so it accommodates all interests.”
“This could have been presented as a two story, 30 foot project,” observed Commissioner Darrell Clarke. “It wasn’t. They had a reason to want to present a larger project… so there’s obviously an incentive that would be created if the 45-foot height limit were allowed.”
He went on to say that the text amendment would encourage increased density in the LMD and “if we’re going to have this type of density it has to be balanced with private and public open space. This is not the time to make what is potentially a major change in the incentives for development in this large portion of the City when we’re in the middle of a land use update.”
Commissioner Julie Lopez-Dad cast the only no vote, saying, “In this City we’ve done a lot to encourage… having artist live/work. And yet in this one district we do not allow the 45 feet that would also promote good design. We’ve made a commitment to having artists in this City and this would enable us to have artist live/work studios that would work.”
Dad also noted that “the 45-foot height could also be used for editing and other types of things so it makes it more versatile which encourages sustainability. This gives us an opportunity to fine tune when we get the new zoning ordinance.”
In other business, the Commission discussed improvements to Longfellow Avenue and adjacent streets in the Borderline Neighborhood and decided to recommend that the City Council should fund the improvements.