As Santa Monica continues to contemplate what the city will look like in the next 50 to 100 years, the Planning Commission considered and discussed potential updates to the City’s zoning ordinances. While no decisions were made at the Jan. 11 special meeting, planning commissioners and consultants pondered a few ideas of how City Hall will manage development in the short, medium, and long terms.
The primary objectives of the Zoning Ordinance Updates include: implementation of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE); qualitative improvement of new development and design; ensuring the community at large and development applicants are provided with “greater clarity” of project expectations; improvement of the permit review process; accommodation of twenty-first century land uses, activities, and needs; and, the creation of “a more user-friendly, graphically rich, clear and concise document.”
“This really is the technical stuff, but it’s vitally important in order to turn the LUCE, which everyone put so much effort into, into something that’s really going to make a difference in the community,” Vivian Khan, a consultant with Dyett & Bhatia, told commissioners.
Kahn said the toughest challenge is outlining clearly and specifically what is expected and required by zoning ordinances while still leaving enough room for creative design.
“What we keep hearing from everybody is (the) want for greater clarity. People want to know what the requirements are,” Kahn said. “On the other hand, there’s definitely a recognition that you have to have flexibility in order to get the kind of creativity that we see in some projects and the City seems to so much want.”
Three types of zoning code approaches were presented at the commission meeting on Jan. 11: Euclidean, Performance-based, and Physical Form-based.
According to the Dyett & Bhatia presentation, a Euclidean zoning code approach is utilized by most American cities, allowing for separate zones for commercial, residential, and industrial. Based on the zoning code of Euclid, Ohio, the Euclidean approach generally disapproves of dissimilar uses within a zone, though some mixed-use development is allowed.
By comparison, performance-based zoning allows for more architectural creativity and focuses more on how specific land uses operate within the context of the zone. Accordingly, performance-based zoning is more difficult to administer since it is not form-based, but relying on this approach means less reliance upon architectural design and public hearings as a “condition of approval to ensure land use compatibility.”
Finally, physical form-based zoning promotes what a specific building, street, or neighborhood should look like; however, the zoning codes do not prescribe limitations or restrictions on land-use. As the presentation pointed out, physical form-based zoning “tends to be highly proscriptive” and is considered a more “holistic” approach.
The goal was to decide on the proper mix of zoning approaches that will direct how Santa Monica will develop for decades to come. What that plan will look like will involve an extensive discussion between staff, planning commissioners, and council members.
Kahn pointed out whatever direction City Hall does decide to go in, the intent of the LUCE is what will help guide how the zoning ordinances are ultimately updated.
“What the LUCE does is it establishes a policy, a very specific policy,” Kahn said. “What the zoning ordinance will do is refine that as long as it (the zoning ordinance) is consistent with the policy.”
Commissioner Chair Jim Reis noted the process in updating Santa Monica’s zoning ordinances was on the right path.
“I’m very supportive of the early review process, get everyone involved,” he said.
Council members are expected to be brought into the discussion on Feb. 28. Once the council provides its input, the zoning ordinance updates will undergo a design review in March. The process is expected to continue through the spring.