Santa Monica wants to build a new fire station to replace an aging one in the downtown area, but instead of purchasing a plot of land to make it happen, City Hall has found a potential partner to do a land swap. By doing so, City Hall could potentially save millions of dollars.
It was a deal council members unanimously approved Aug. 14 for City staff to pursue.
Under terms of the proposed deal, three parcels of land located at 1337 to 1347 Seventh Street would be exchanged for City-owned property at 1338 to 1342 Fifth Street.
The seller’s property on Seventh Street is owned by 1337 7th Street LLC and was valued by an independent appraiser to have a market value of $7,875,000. Conversely, the City-owned property was appraised at $8,050,000. Accordingly, the seller would pay the difference of $175,000 to City Hall.
“The approval of the Resolution and authorization of the exchange provides an opportunity for the City to secure a site that meets the City’s current and long-term requirements for a new fire station that will serve downtown and the northwestern portion of Santa Monica,” City staff said.
Fire Station No. 1 is currently located at 1444 Seventh Street in downtown and was built there in 1955. City Hall stated the station must undergo seismic retrofitting and other upgrades but the size of the land that it sits upon may not be suitable for a more modern facility.
Andy Agle, the City’s director of housing and economic development, said the current Fire Station No. 1 will not be serviceable much longer and a new station must be built soon in its place.
“The current fire station located on Seventh Street south of Santa Monica is nearing the end of its useful life and no longer meets current seismic and accessibility requirements,” Agle told the council. “Staff considered rebuilding a facility on the existing site but it’s too small to accommodate current firefighting needs.”
During public comment, there was concern of whether it was the developer, not the City, who received the best deal possible in the land swap.
A portion of the proposed land swap agreement would allow NMS Properties to purchase up to 100 monthly market rate parking spaces at the Main Library for a period of 10 years with two five-year options.
According to City staff, there are 525 total parking spaces in the Main Library’s parking structure of which, during peak occupancy, about 200 are available at any given time.
In pursuing this option, three members of the public – including a city council candidate – questioned whether the developer involved in this proposed land swap deal might be forgoing an obligation to build underground parking, ergo saving them millions of dollars.
“I think there is a better deal possible when it helps the City of Santa Monica more than it would help the developer. I think we should try to negotiate a better deal on this project,” council candidate John C. Smith said. “We need a fire station, but why the parking? Why does the parking have to enter into this deal? Why 100 spaces? Why 10 years.”
City staff responded that no obligations were forgone in crafting the proposed land swap deal.
According to Agle, said land in the area where Fire Station 1 would be built may be valued as much as $8 million. Considering the City’s limited financial resources in light of the dissolution of redevelopment, obtaining the land to build a new fire station via eminent domain or a traditional property transaction would be painstakingly difficult.
“This presents a great opportunity to not further dig into our resources to create property that would work for the fire station,” Agle added.
NMS Properties, Inc., was the sole respondent to City Hall’s Request for Proposals “for a new site suitable to build a replacement facility for Fire Station No. 1.”
If all goes as planned, the new Fire Station No. 1 may open in 2016.