Agensys, a Japanese owned biotechnology company focusing on the development of drugs to treat cancer, has been operating in Santa Monica since 1997 in five different sites. The company wants to combine all their operations and build its headquarters at a 4-acre site at the1800 Stewart Street site.
The site is owned by the City of Santa Monica and is adjacent to the site that eventually will become Bergamot Station when the Expo Light Rail line is completed in 2015. It currently contains two buildings that are approved for entertainment production use. Lionstone is currently leasing the site through the end of this summer.
Agensys presented updated concept design to the City Council at its April 27 meeting. The designs are a drastic shift in tone and functionality from initial designs presented to the Planning Commission earlier this year. The new designs feature a number of public benefits ,which include a pedestrian path through the site to connect Stewart Street to Bergamot Station, a pocket park on Stewart Street, shared parking for Bergamot Station and events, internships for college students, tours for high school and younger students, a café open to the public, and a sculpture garden.
Although the council and many of the public speakers expressed support of the project and appreciation of Agnesys’ incorporation of the public in its designs, most everyone wanted more from the company. The most prevailing desire was for a bike bath through the site, as opposed to the current designs which call for a path on the borders of the site.
“We really need to weave this project into the connectivity of the surrounding community,” said Ken Strumple, a member of the Los Angels Bicycle Coalition, “because bicycles are going to play a very important role in bringing riders to [Bergamot Station].”
Agensys would like to acquire the ground lease and construct a 153,000 square foot project for their administrative offices, manufacturing areas, and research and development facilities. The project will involve the renovation of part of one of the existing warehouse buildings and 15,000 square feet of new construction.
The project requires a Development Agreement, in which a developer offers the City public benefits in exchange for being permitted to develop their project with parameters that are outside of the of the City’s zoning standards. In this case, the proposed project height is 45-50 feet, which is above what is currently permitted by the City zoning codes, but would be permitted by the City’s Draft Land Use and Circulation Element if public benefits are included.
Conceptual project details include housing up to a maximum of 300 employees in a two and three story building, having 200-220 surface parking spaces, and developing a Traffic Demand Management Plan. Agensys is also designing its project to be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified. They want to begin construction in 2011 and complete their project by 2012.
Community activist Catherine Eldridge commented on the public benefits being offered by stating, “This project and others in this area want to say that an amenity wants to serve the public when it is actually a necessity for their own employees and businesses, which is not an acceptable definition for a bonus serving amenity for the public.”
All the Council members were very pleased with the project. They liked the fact that it had been modified to comply with many of the Planning Commission’s suggestions. Council member Gleam Davis noted, “This project is modern manufacturing” and “exactly the kind of project we want to see in Santa Monica.” However, she asked that Agensys “invest not just in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of people” by employing local residents to due the construction and to work at the new headquarters on an ongoing basis.
Davis thoughts were echoed by Council member Shriver when he stated, “I feel that this is a very valuable site … and we’re being asked to extend their lease” which is effectively giving them this land. “I’m concerned that we get a good enough deal for that.”
One of the things Shriver requested was that non-Federal drug related jobs such as janitorial positions are audited annually to make sure local residents were filling a percentage of them. Other Councilmembers called for special-skill jobs too.
Council member Robert Holbrook interjected that perhaps the City should first check how many of its own employees are residents before calling on employers to do so.
The Council review of the project was the final step in the float up process for this project. The float up process allows a developer to get feedback from the community and other city bodies on their project before formally applying for a DA with the City. Council members asked staff to include in their DA negotiation with Agensys a number of public benefits including prioritizing local jobs in construction and ongoing employment, bike lane connectivity, proactive community involvement, carsharing, wayfinding signage, a café open to the public, an architectural transition to the neighborhood, transportation design management strategies, a single point of contact for the neighborhood to deal with neighborhood concerns, ongoing youth education, and programming with high schools and colleges.
Fogarty stressed to the Council that there would be another community meeting to discuss the project and to get more input on additional possible public benefits before the project comes back for the DA’s city review process.