Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an amendment at its meeting Tuesday, March 13th, to an ordinance that will allow 7,492 square feet of parking area at 3402 Pico Blvd. to be converted into office space.

This will allow the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) — the organization of musicians, producers, recording engineers and other recording professionals that runs the Grammy Awards — to expand its office space in Santa Monica.

“We’re fortunate to be an organization that continues to grow and be healthy and we need a little more room,” said Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

On January 17th, the city Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the City Council approve the proposed ordinance amendment that was filed by the academy, for the Pico Boulevard location to convert ground floor parking area into office space in a C2 “Neighborhood Commercial District.”

A section of the Santa Monica Municipal Code prohibits general office space in a C2 district on the ground floor within the first 150 feet of Pico and Ocean Park Boulevards and Montana Avenue.

This is in order to reserve the ground-floor space for uses that promote walk-in clientele, said Bradley Misner, senior planner for the city.

The amendment to the ordinance that the City Council approved on March 13th will allow for general offices on the ground floor of existing buildings located in the C2 district that have unique circumstances that preclude the ground-floor space from being utilized for pedestrian-oriented uses that service the nearby residential neighborhoods, said Misner.

Portnow said he believes this will be “a win-win situation” for the city and the recording academy.

“We feel that we’re a good neighbor,” said Portnow at the meeting. “We’re very community-friendly. We’ve made a concerted effort to be good neighbors.”

At the meeting, several people voiced support for the amendment to the ordinance, including Jim Lynch, president of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.

The academy is “one of those types of organizations that any city would be proud to have, and we encourage you to support this,” Lynch said to the council.

Ralph Mechur, who owns Ralph Mechur Architects in Santa Monica, said he hoped the council would support the amendment and the academy and allow them “to continue the good work they do.”

Mitch Dorf, a coach for a Santa Monica Little League team, said the recording academy supports Santa Monica Little League and is “unique,” adding that it is an “honor and privilege” to have them as a neighbor in Santa Monica.

“I encourage you to do everything in your power to ensure that they remain in Santa Monica,” Dorf said.

The recording academy building was first designed with grade-level parking and two floors of office space above, but over time, the parking area has legally been converted into additional office space, said Misner.

But now, the last remaining parking area is proposed to be converted into office space — and that is not legal without amending this ordinance.

The amendment to the ordinance will apply only to those parcels with existing buildings that have ground floors that were designed and intended for uses other than pedestrian-oriented uses.

The amendment applies if:

– the building’s front faÁade and entrance are not oriented toward Montana Avenue, Ocean Park Boulevard and Pico Boulevard;

– the building has a finished ground floor which is more than three feet below the level of the adjacent sidewalk along Montana Avenue, Ocean Park Boulevard, and Pico Boulevard;

– the building is set back a minimum of 20 feet from the sidewalk along Montana Avenue, and Ocean Park and Pico Boulevards; and

– when the building was initially developed, the ground floor was designed and intended for non-pedestrian-oriented uses.

The recording academy building’s front entrance faces 34th Street and the side of the building is parallel to Pico Boulevard.

Amending the ordinance will have no financial impact on the city, staff said.

Mayor pro tem Herb Katz said he thought the decision made “great sense,” and he moved that the motion to amend the ordinance be approved.

“We’re grateful to have you [the Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences] here,” Mayor Richard Bloom said.

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