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Santa Monica Planning Commission Hosts Third Public Hearing For Zoning Ordinance:

With the arrival of 2014, the Santa Monica Planning Commission will spend the entire month of January pouring over the Draft Zoning Ordinance Update, a document governing the many land uses and dedicated to implementing the City’s General Plan.

Commissioners return to the dais next Wednesday, Jan. 15 to review the Draft Zoning Ordinance Update for a third time. The item was originally scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 8, but that meeting was cancelled.

At the Jan. 15 meeting, planning commissioners will specifically be discussing residential neighbors, Ocean Park, and mixed-use and commercial districts.

According to City Hall, the overall purpose of the Zoning Ordinance is to not only implement the General Plan but also “protect and promote the public health, safety, peace, comfort, convenience, prosperity and general welfare by regulating the location and use of buildings, structures, and land for residential, commercial, industrial, recreational, and other specified uses.”

Within the document, the Draft Zoning Ordinance outlines several specific objectives, such as providing a “precise guide for the physical development of the City” and to “protect and enhance the quality of the natural and built environment.”

Protecting the quality of life of Santa Monica’s residents, ensuring park and public open space, promoting viable commercial and industrial enterprises, providing diverse employment opportunities, and fostering “citizen participation in the development decision-making process,” were also among the stated objectives within the planning document.

The Zoning Ordinance would be executed via four types of regulations: administrative, development standards, general terms and use classifications, and land use.

The Zoning Ordinance Update will not affect a few elements of Santa Monica’s planning and zoning standards. For example, the neighborhood commercial areas on Main Street, Montana Avenue, and Ocean Park Boulevard will have the same restrictions on building height, floor area ratio, and the number of restaurants allowable per block.

With the exception of an area in Ocean Park, height and density limits as well as other development standards remain the same for all residential zoning districts.

In Ocean Park, one change is being made to limit the number of variance requests and instead promote new developments and remodeled structures are more designed to be more consistent with each other and the surrounding neighborhood.

The process to obtain a permit, as well as the major permit types available, will also remain unchanged in the updated Zoning Ordinance.

One key area covered by the Zoning Ordinance Update is neighborhood conservation. For example, a neighborhood conservation overlay district could be established, allowing “neighborhoods to define existing physical conditions and character, including building heights, setbacks, massing, open space, repetition of building and streetscape elements, and trees and landscaping.”

The updated Zoning Ordinance would also prohibit “Tier 2” projects in R2 zones and require a development agreement (DA) for Tier 2 projects in R3 and R4 zones.

A Tier 2 project is one with a Floor Area Ration (FAR) of up to 2.25. Tier 1 projects are the least dense and Tier 3 has the greatest possible density. Just the same, an R2-zoned area includes low-density housing.

Also being modified in the Zoning Ordinance Update: thresholds for Development Review Permits. New developments or expansion projects larger than 10,000 square feet in floor area in all commercial, neighborhood, oceanfront, or residential districts (or 20,000 square feet in floor area in other districts) would require a discretionary and appealable hearing before the Planning Commission.

The same requirement would also apply to all projects exceeding Tier 1 limits.

Zoning designations would also be changed under the updated Zoning Ordinance. For example, the new designation of MU-BL (Mixed-Use Boulevard Low) would be inclusive of at least six current zones, including C-2, C-4, CM-3, CM-4, BCD, LMSD (outside of Bergamot), and M-1. GC, or General Commercial, would be the new designation for the commercial zone for Lincoln and Santa Monica Boulevards. NC would be the Neighborhood Commercial zone covering C-2, C-4 (Pico), and CM-2.

Updates to tiers, height and density requirements, and building footprints are also covered within the Draft Zoning Ordinance Update.

The Draft Zoning Ordinance Update also defines use classifications for auto dealers, food trucks, medical marijuana dispensaries, restaurant sizes, and tattoo/body modification parlors.

Other areas with potentially new definitions: parking rules for various zones depending upon proximity to mixed-used projects or transit; bike parking; community benefit requirements for Tier 2 projects; nonconforming structures and uses; transportation demand management requirements; the role of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) in the Development Review Permit process; and, potential amendments to the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).

The Mirror will take a closer look at various aspects of the Draft Zoning Ordinance Update as the planning document moves through the public process and toward execution.

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