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Planning Board Trims Future Development Options: eliminates grand boulevards from mix

After a lengthy discussion at its November 4 meeting, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission trimmed development alternatives suggested by City staff in the second milestone report, “Opportunities and Challenges” on the revision of the Land Use and Circulation Elements of its General Plan.

The land use element delineates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space, etc.) while the circulation element sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways, and other modes of transportation. The zoning ordinance translates the land use element’s goals and objectives into standards and procedures. They were last updated in 1984.

Staff initially suggested five alternatives, all of which included the development of more mass transit. The first was a no growth scenario that was described in the City staff report as a means for the City planners and their consultants to “compile information and explain the physical, cultural, economic and legal implications associated with this policy, including an assessment of impacts to population diversity, property values and housing affordability, impacts to the local economy and possible litigation challenges.” Another was the status quo alternative that was “included in order to understand the likely consequences of continuing with existing policy, land uses and regulations for the community over the next twenty years based on past trends and expected reuse of land.”

The third alternative, neighborhood centers “focuses small scale growth at strategic locations along the commercial boulevards that will serve existing residential and commercial neighborhoods.” The fourth, the “Uptown/Downtown” alternative “creates a new Uptown District centered around Bergamot Station. This mixed-use district would provide live work studios, support cultural resources in the area and support opportunities to expand for medical-related uses in the area.”

The final alternative, the one the Commission decided to eliminate, was “Grand Boulevards,” which “focuses development along the commercial boulevards to create a consistent scale and distinctive character that is unique to Santa Monica.”

Commissioner Darrell Clarke spoke in favor of eliminating it because he “would not want to live along a very busy boulevard due to the noise and exhaust one would have to endure to be there, and I’m concerned about whether it is really transit oriented.”

Commission Vice Chair Gwynne Pugh also opposed it, dubbing it “an anathema because it’s just the kind of City we don’t want to be.”

The public also weighed in on the alternatives. Landmarks Commission Vice Chair Nina Fresco stated that “the descriptions of the alternatives presented offer far too little information to determine their impact on historic preservation.”

Activist Ellen Brennan said the staff’s alternatives didn’t reflect residents’ wishes. She reminded the Commission that “a couple of months ago 45 people stood one after another at this very microphone and said clearly and eloquently we don’t want more development. We want to preserve the beach town low density, low horizon of Santa Monica. Where is the option that tells us what it would look like if the floor area ratios (FARs) were lowered and if we knew what the smallest minimum development necessary that complies with the law looks like? That’s what the residents want. We’ve spoken loudly and often and the staff is aware of what we want yet continues to try to lead the discussion in a way that leaves this out. The options they proposed are vague and they all indicate very large of amounts of development.”

Ocean Park resident Joel Brand stressed, “We’re trying to decide on the city of the future but we haven’t discussed at length how many people would live in that city.”

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the staffs alternatives at its meeting next Tuesday, January 24.

City staff will then analyze the options and will develop an alternatives workbook that will be discussed in community workshops later this year.

In other business, the Commission developed a recommendation that will be forwarded to the City Council establishing a discretionary review procedure for the conversion of ground floor restaurants adjacent to the Third Street Promenade into new or expanded retail uses.

It recommended that the City adjust and regulate the number of restaurants on the Promenade based on the linear footage per block and create a Condition Use Permit (CUP) process if the number falls below the required number of restaurants per block. It also suggested a provision for buildings with multiple floors. If a restaurant is on the first floor, there should be access to businesses either on the second floor or the basement from the first floor.

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