After a four hour hearing on March 28, Santa Monica’s City Council approved an interim ordinance that will make it easier for automobile dealerships to do business in Santa Monica without disrupting the quality of life of neighboring residents. At stake for the City was crafting an ordinance that responded to the years of complaints by a segment of the City’s business community that contributes about 20 percent of the City’s annual sales tax revenue while also responding to the issues raised by nearby residents. This new ordinance now permits auto dealerships to operate in the M-1 (light industrial zone) area of the City and to construct facilities in the Light Manufacturing Studio District (LMSD) with the same height limit (35 feet) as other LMSD commercial buildings. Also part of the approved ordinance is a provision which allows those dealers that have already been operating in the multi-family R2 and R3 City zones to construct inventory storage structures that could include rooftop parking if they include a six foot parapet or screen wall. Finally, provisions were also made for the City to review dealer applications on a case-by-case basis on how dealers unload their inventory. This was significant because in many cases on-site loading is difficult so it must be done in the public right-of-way, which can greatly impact nearby residents. Prior to the vote, the Council heard from the residents and the auto dealers. Dealership owner Mark Harding told the Council he believed the proposed ordinance was a leap forward for both residents and dealers because “if we’re both not entirely happy, it must be balanced.” He urged the Council “to look very closely at how we unload our inventory. If we are restricted and unable to off-load on the streets, we’re unable to get our cars into town [so] we’re unable to do business.” He also pointed out that for over 20 years dealers have operated on undersized lots without adequate parking. Harding also claims that dealership operations and the neighborhood in general have suffered as a result. Another dealership owner, Joe Simpkins, noted the auto dealerships “are one of the largest financial contributors to the City and the City’s budget. Our retail sales contribution is well over $6 million a year. We’re also one of the largest employers in the City. We feel like we’re inexorably tied as far as our mutual goals and objectives. We want to be the best neighbor we possibly can…There’s got to be mutual resolution where it’s good us, good for the City and good for the quality of life. I really think the quality of life would substantially be changed if the car dealerships can’t be successful in Santa Monica and some of these ordinances threaten that situation.” Chuck Allord, who was representing Neighbors For A Safer Santa Monica, stressed, “The auto dealerships have been bad neighbors for a long time. By allowing them to develop on their current locations and expand into the M-1 zone properties without any limitations on the hours of operation, hours of repair and sales is just rewarding an industry that have been bad neighbors.” Another resident, Ruth Ann Stanley, told the Council the auto dealership near her had been a good neighbor because they listened to her when she complained about deliveries during early morning hours and suggested that the Council “let them build underground” if they need to expand. City staff will now be exploring other aspects of the issue that could be addressed in the future by an ordinance that will include how storage of inventory on property in residential areas will effect residential streets, whether to encourage free on-site parking for employees as opposed to encouraging employees to use other modes of transportation, checking the consequences of encouraging dealers to build underground and limiting outdoor work in the M-1 zone. The City staff analysis will be discussed on May 9 when the extension of the interim ordinance will be discussed.
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