Santa Monica officials and a real estate management company are exploring the possibility of a mixed-use complex near a future light rail site at Bergamot Station, which they believe will provide increased green space, housing and commercial opportunities.

In addition, planning representatives believe that attracting employees who work in or adjacent to Santa Monica to the residential units will bring the added bonus of reducing automobile traffic in the beachside city.

Residents of the Pico Neighborhood heard a presentation on the planned mixed use development near the site of the Mid-City/Exposition Light Rail Line on December 15th and the reaction to the project appeared to be mixed.

Santa Monica Planning Director Eileen Fogarty and Jing Yeo, the city’s special projects manager, opened the evening with a visual presentation of what the proposed transit-oriented project, which is at the former Paper Mate factory north of Olympic Boulevard, will entail.

The developer of the proposed venture, Hines, purchased the property in 2007 and is seeking to build a nearly one million-square -foot complex that will house residential units, along with space for the creative arts and entertainment, retail, commercial and office space.

Hines Senior Vice President Colin Shepherd followed Fogarty and Yeo and explained the benefits that the developer feels the project will bring to Santa Monica.

Shepherd said the mixed-use complex would be LEED certified, and the plans also include the possibility of building an amphitheater at the complex.

LEED certification is the nationally recognized standard for measuring sustainability, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

The developer will also attempt to lure local workers to live in the residential component of the complex, which in turn could help to alleviate congestion near the transit corridor and other areas of the city, Shepherd said. He added that they would especially like to attract firefighters, police officers and teachers.

“We will target those who work in the area,” Shepherd told the audience. “When there is a person working in the nearby area that can walk to work, the (car) trip that would have been generated no longer exits.”

Nearly 100 residents attended the public hearing, and most who addressed the developer appeared interested and supportive of what is being considered by the city.

“It seems to me that there’s a balance of spaces for creative arts and housing, and bike and pedestrian friendly access,” said Jerry Rubin, a longtime Santa Monica environmental activist. “I think it’s good that it is also a LEED-certified project, even though they are not required by the city to do so.”

Rubin said he was generally pleased with the tone of the meeting and he feels that both Hines and planning officials seem to be considering what the public offered as feedback on the night of the hearing.

“I sensed that the developer and the city are listening to the public,” he said.

Robert Rosenstein told Shepherd that he is worried about the potential for increased traffic, particularly for residents who live near Colorado Avenue.

“Folks north of Colorado are very concerned not only about this project, but the other four projects that are on the drawing board that will be nearby,” said Rosenstein, who lives on Yale Street. “My street will be destined for a lot of the traffic coming out of these four projects because it’s a way for people to get to the 405 (freeway).

“I think that it’s going to be a challenge for anyone to develop this site.”

A five-story post-production facility and a LEED-certified, 3.85-acre mixed-use project are being proposed on Colorado for next year, as well as another mixed-use complex with 135,000 square feet of office space and 84 residential units. A three-story, 91-unit artist lofts project is also in the works, but its environmental impact report has been suspended per the applicant’s request.

All three are within blocks of the former Paper Mate location.

In an interview with The Argonaut after the meeting, Shepherd mentioned his company’s longtime involvement with Santa Monica’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) process, and attending a number of meetings in recent years has given them an idea what city officials and residents want for their city.

“We’ve been hearing from a lot of people over the past three years during the LUCE process, and at the (December 15th) public hearing, we did not hear anything that was new,” he said.

The Hines executive acknowledged that one of the most frequent complaints about the planned transit development is centered around the potential for added traffic in certain areas, and he and city traffic engineers are taking that concern seriously.

“We are the closest site to the light rail line and one of the best ways to mitigate traffic is with rail,” Shepherd stated.

City Councilman Kevin McKeown also attended the community meeting and he said the City Council will be faced with a dilemma when Hines makes its presentation before the city’s governing body.

“The question is how much new traffic we’re willing to risk in one of Santa Monica’s critical crossroads, and how much new commercial office space we

still need,” the councilman told The Argonaut. “We want a vital mixed-use gateway across from the future Expo station, with restaurants and retail, affordable housing, local jobs, and pedestrian and bicycle access.”

Shepherd also addressed the height of his proposed project and sought to clarify the significance of how tall the complex would be as compared to what the developer can legally build.

“We are ten percent below the current density and just over ten percent above the current height requirement. In the original LUCE draft, there was an average building height of 78 feet,” he explain-ed. “The current LUCE document has an average of 65 feet, and our proposed building height is 71.”

The current zoning in the area where the transit center is proposed is 84 feet.

McKeown noted that the planned transit development is a green project, but said that was to be expected.

“LEED certification is a given, not a negotiating point,” he asserted.

Rubin pointed out that this was the first presentation of the project and it still requires approval of the City Council.

“It’s the beginning of the process, and I’m hopeful that everyone can come together to make this a win-win situation,” he said.

The developer has been tracking the former Paper Mate site for many years, Shepherd said.

“We purchased the land with a strong positive use in mind,” he said. “Santa Monica is a very involved community, and we would like to hear all of the individual ideas and concerns with our project.”

McKeown said the inclusion of units that could house creative arts-related businesses might help the public’s perception of the project.

“If we could guarantee true arts-related creative space, I’d be more comfortable, but often such promises fall prey to broad interpretation and we end up with creative accounting,” he said.

Shepherd told the audience at the public meeting that city officials are working with the former owners of the property toward remediation for environmental hazards due to various chemicals and solvents that found their way into the Olympic Wellfield, an aquifer that represents the city’s second largest groundwater supply.

Santa Monica Assistant City Attorney Joseph Lawrence confirmed that Gillette, which purchased the site from Paper Mate in 2004, has agreed to clean up contaminated soil at the site and transfer property to Santa Monica valued at approximately $3.25 million as part of a $68 million settlement agreement.

Hines is slated to present its proposal to the Planning Commission on January 27th.

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