How did it all go so wrong is the question being asked regarding the development proposed by Hines 26th Street, LLC (Hines) for a 960,000 square feet project located on the north side of Olympic Boulevard from Stewart Street on the east, to 26th Street on the west, and to Pennsylvania Avenue on the north.
The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) criteria for the site of the proposed project call for “a village environment as the focus of community life” with an “exciting neighborhood that is unique and authentic” and with a “bold and eclectic building design that reflects an arts character.
“One with human scaled buildings, a variety of housing types, creative arts jobs, local serving retail/services, reestablishing the city roads pattern to provide pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular connections throughout the project area and into the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The Hines proposal busts the scale and character of the City’s vision, instead proposing super-sized buildings that are suburban rather than urban, corporate rather than “bold, eclectic and reflecting an arts character,” and isolated rather than connected to adjacent neighborhoods and the city.
The area name, “Bergamot Transit Village” comes from the LUCE, but the Hines proposal has no relationship to the name. “Bergamot” echoes a time when the bergamot plant, a California native, grew on the site. Yet there is no design nod to the history of the site. “Transit” identifies the site in its relationship to the coming Expo Station. Yet it does not connect with ease or enticement to the coming Expo Station and the Bergamot Arts Center.
Finally, the proposal is antithetical to the qualities of a “village” – a place, traditionally built over time, where people come together to live, have fun, conduct business and to express the values and hopes of the common community.
On March 22, after a lengthy public hearing and a full discussion by the Santa Monica City Council, a unanimous vote sent the developer back to the drawing board with Council member Bobby Shriver leading the argument that entering into a contract for a Development Agreement (DA) would send the wrong message to the developer. This project, he said, “doesn’t feel like Santa Monica.”
Council member Kevin McKeown reflected broad public sentiment when he stated, “the City is baffled by the proposal and wonders why we are entertaining it at this time.” On McKeown’s motion the Council voted not to enter into negotiations on the terms of the DA and, instead, to direct staff to work with the developer to address all the points made by Council and in the Staff Report. The Council would then reconsider the application and decide at that point whether to enter into negotiations on a DA for the project.
Development Agreements, which are contracts entered into between cities and developers, allow for the agreement to contain terms and conditions that are specifically negotiated and determined for the project. The fee for the DA application is unique in Santa Monica in that the developer pays the City an initial fee of $10,000 and staff time is then billed to the developer, at a rate of $227 per hour (a rate determined for the City through an independent study). If the initial fee is exhausted, the developer continues to pay the City for staff time at the predetermined rate, thus allowing the City to recover costs.
The real question remains. How did the developer, who knew that this project would have to meet the LUCE standards, get it so wrong? Why doesn’t his design meet the LUCE standards? Where are the “bold and eclectic buildings that reflect an arts character and express the unique and authentic qualities of the Bergamot area?”
However, repeated calls to Colin Shepherd, the representative for Hines, were not returned. As of press time we don’t know how the company would answer.
What could Hines do to get approval on this project? Listening to the Council members at the March 22 meeting, Hines would have to commit to a fundamental redesign of the entire project.
Start with a new master plan for the site that re-establishes the street grid and then expand on that grid to create a network of public sidewalks, pathways, gardens, and public destination points is the starting place. Done right, this would be the beginning of creating character and a sense of place and would establish clear connections between the project site, the coming Expo station, Bergamot Arts Center, the surrounding neighborhoods, and the city as a whole.
Redesign the proposed mega buildings into a series of appropriately scaled buildings that relate to the street. Crucial to the redesign would be a respect for the aesthetic vision for Bergamot. A vision established through years of public workshops and finalized through the formal public approval process of the LUCE.
Creating a “village” is probably the hardest of the tasks. Key to success in achieving the village concept will be the design of the individual buildings, their place in the landscape, and their relationship to the street grid. Essential to the design is that the buildings express the aesthetic character called for in the LUCE and that each building be distinct. Fortunately, for Hines and for the City, Santa Monica is home to great architects of both international and local renown. It would go a long way toward achieving the village concept if each building in the redesigned project were to be designed by individual architects all working toward the common goals of the LUCE.
As it stands now, all I have for Hines are questions.
What Say You?