The City of Santa Monica Planning and Community Development Department is writing a new ordinance that modifies building design standards in the city’s downtown areas

City officials had presented a lengthy ordinance to the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday, September 13th.

However, councilmembers believed that the ordinance required too many zoning changes that were inappropriate, considering that the city has already begun a public process to update 20-year land use ordinances.

“We have to respect the public’s participation in and expectations for the Land Use Element process we are already in,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “We have commenced the public input process and should make as few changes as possible outside of that process.

“We should only make changes that substantially improve the existing situation in ways that minimally affect land use.”

Councilmembers decided to table most of the staff recommendations in the proposed ordinance and asked staff to return with a new ordinance.

The new ordinance incorporates five recommendations from the City of Santa Monica Architectural Review Board and two recommendations from the City Council.

The recommendations are:

n Ground floors (from floor to ceiling) should have a minimum height of 18 feet on the Third Street Promenade and a minimum height of 15 feet in other downtown areas.

n The ground floor should show a difference in style from the upper floors through the use of various methods such as changes in building materials or changes in plane.

“I traveled in Europe and noticed that great buildings have a distinction between what is on the ground floor and what is above,” McKeown said. “Right now, we don’t encourage this design, and we should.”

n Landscape requirements should be reduced so that landscaping does not negatively impact the business and pedestrian orientation of downtown areas.

n The pedestrian environment should be enhanced by minimizing curb cuts and encouraging parking access from the alleys, rather than from the streets.

n Parking requirements should be standardized to encourage small neighborhood-serving businesses to lease space in downtown areas.

n The ordinance should not negatively impact specialty use projects such as houses of worship.

“The language has to address specialty uses such as houses of worship,” said mayor pro tem Herb Katz. “Something has to be included in the ordinance so people know for sure that they don’t have to follow specific regulations.”

n Developers should take into consideration and address the needs of historic structures that may be next to their projects.

“Over the past several years, the downtown has been the arena for rapid and unprecedented growth,” said Joan Charles, chair of the Architectural Review Board. “In reviewing the majority of these projects, the board has had to struggle with issues of design and pedestrian orientation.

“We are proposing simple guidelines which will encourage better and more creative architecture in the downtown.

“Since we are not proposing changes related to building height, setbacks, floor aspect ratio, density, or building type, we believe our recommendations could be achieved without major changes to the zoning code.”

Andy Agle, interim director of planning and community development, and his staff are working on the new ordinance with consultant Boris Dramov of the San Francisco-based ROMA Design Group.

Dramov is an architect and urban designer who designed the current Third Street Promenade.

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