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Jay Johnson Heads Planning Board: auto dealers get new deal

The Santa Monica Planning Commission unanimously elected Commissioner Jay Johnson as its Chair and Gwynne Pugh as its Vice-Chair at its Meeting last Wednesday.

A marketing executive, real estate agent and owner/manager of residential income property, Johnson has been a member of the Commission since September, 2000. Architect Pugh, a partner in Pugh and Scarpa, joined the Commission in January, 2004.

They succeeded Barbara Brown and Darrell Clarke, respectively.

Another architect, Hendrick (Hank) Konig, has joined the Commission. He was appointed by the City Council at its last meeting to replace Arlene Hopkins, who chose not to seek re-appointment at the end of her first term (see Hopkins’ statement on page 7).

Moving on, the Commission unanimously recommended that the City Council approve a proposed amendment to the City’s General Plan Land Use Element policies in the form of an interim ordinance that would allow development of automobile dealership parking structures.

These structures would be permitted in low and medium density residential districts (R2 and R3 districts) and parking overlay zones on properties currently used legally by automobile dealerships in conjunction with facilities located in or adjacent to a commercial zone.

According to the City staff report, the amendment was developed because “the City has long understood that new solutions must be found to resolve conflicts by balancing the needs of both neighboring residents and dealers and providing incentives for dealerships to develop sites that meet City standards.” Such incentives would encourage dealerships to “redevelop and enclose operations, thus reducing noise and glare that impact adjacent residents.”

If approved, the interim ordinance would potentially affect 30 parcels which are used by approximately 16 automobile dealerships that are primcipally located on Santa Monica Boulevard.

These changes were initially proposed by the auto dealers several years ago.

The Commission also recommended that the Council certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the amendment and adopt a Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC). An SOC was necessary, according to the City staff report. because the EIR analysis found that “In some cases, the increased size of dealerships with structures that expand into residentially-zoned parcels might result in significant traffic impacts on a street segment or intersection… [therefore] the project’s public benefits outweigh its potentially unavoidable environmental impacts…[an anticipated traffic increase] should be somewhat off-set by expected reduction in trips to and from off-site lots as on-site inventory increases.”

The Commission recommendation was made in the face of criticism from residential neighbors of the auto dealerships. Fourteenth Street resident Winston Wong told the Commission that residents on his block are constantly troubled by car alarms going off and by speeding cars driven by dealer employees.

Jerry George, who lives on Twelfth Street, delivered a petition signed by his neighbors that opposed the amendment in the belief that it would “add increased traffic to their already overburdened thoroughfare.”

Euclid resident Gordon McKey pointed out that residents in his area are beset by increased traffic caused by the automobile dealerships, trucks unloading in alleyways as well as unsafe conditions. He also dismissed the EIR analysis as “slapdash” and said “no research was done [for it] in our neighborhood.”

Attorney Chris Harding, representing the Santa Monica Auto Dealership Association, pointed out that the residents’ concerns about City review of such structures was not necessary as “a Development Review Permit is required for any project over 7,500 square feet. I cannot imagine a parking structure of less than size, so there’s no question that the Commission will be seeing them as well as the Architectural Review Board.” He also said that residents would benefit from such structures because they would “reduce the amount of intra-dealership traffic from different dealership sites because much of their inventory is stored off-site and is moved back and forth.”

The City Council is scheduled to review the interim ordinance on August 9.

In other business, the Commission also approved a Conditional Use permit and variance to permit the Unitarian Universalist Church at 1260 and 1248 18th Street to construct a 3,402 square foot two-story addition to an existing building currently used for education al activities and convert the existing residence at 1248 18th Street for use as a church office.Finally, the Commission upheld an appeal by Nextel Communications that will allow it to construct an unmanned wireless telecommunication facility on the roof of an existing three-story building at 1402 Third Street Promenade.

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