After a lengthy hearing, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission voted to allow the FAME Senior Group Housing Project to move forward in the Pico Neighborhood by denying two appeals of the City’s Architectural Review Board’s (ARB) approval of the project.
The project includes a contemporary three-story 100 percent senior group housing project with individual living quarters, small efficiency kitchens, an adjoining common kitchen, a central courtyard, recreational facilities, and a subterranean garage containing 20 on-site parking spaces. Twenty-four units of the senior housing project will be located at 1924-1930 Euclid Street, 18 units will be built at 1753 18th Street and 7 units will be built at 1754 19th Street. The City of Santa Monica will be contributing $6.7 million to the funding of this project.
Members of the ARB approved the project on July 20, 2009 because in their view the project was appropriately designed and scaled to address the street it will be sited in. However, neighbors of the project felt differently. Representatives from their recently formed group, the Pico Euclid Neighborhood Coalition (PENC) and the other appellant, Linas Baskauskas, explained their reasons for appealing the ARB’s approval of the project at the October 21 Commission meeting.
Baskauskas noted that the “scale and size of this structure totally overpowers the neighborhood.” He also claimed that “this project is masquerading as a senior group housing” because its kitchen does not meet the requirements specified in the zoning code for a senior group housing project. He also objected to the fact that this project was approved through the City’s expedited review process. The City allows projects of 50 units or less of affordable housing to qualify for expedited review which means they are reviewed by the ARB but not the Planning Commission.
Another City resident, Denise Barton, was concerned that allowing this project to go forward would set a negative precedent. She stated: “If this project is allowed to happen here, who is to say it won’t happen in other parts of the City.”
Project neighbor Julius Menta summed up the views of many who spoke when he stated, “I’m not against senior housing. I’m not against low- income housing. We need more of it but this is a sham.” Like others, he felt the parking for the project was insufficient.
Louisa Fish, is a member of the City’s Commission on the Senior Community, told the Commission “How can a City like this have senior projects going through without any input from the Senior Commission
whatsoever is incredible to me.”
The developer’s attorney, Ken Kutcher, emphasized to the Commission that tonight they were sitting as the appellate body for the ARB and as a result, were basing their decision on the appeal based on design issues. He also stressed that this type of project is allowed by right in the R2 zoned areas of the City.
Many of the speakers also called for a full Planning Commission review of the project.
In the end however, the Commission agreed with City staff to let the project go forward by denying the appeals. Jay Johnson summed up the Commission’s decision when he stated, “ The project as we see it at this time is definitely something to go forward with as is subject to the guarantees that we have and have consistently relied on that any kind of issues that would not be quite right would be resolved in the plan check and with staff coordination. I really feel comfortable with the design of this project.”