Santa Monica City Council approved a new ordinance setting business design and development standards for the C2 Neighborhood Commercial District on Montana Avenue Tuesday, August 3rd.

The C2 District includes a mix of single-family residences, multi-family residences and businesses along Montana Avenue between Sixth Court and 17th Street.

One major provision of the new ordinance will permanently bring back sidewalk dining, which was significantly reduced or prohibited by several ordinances passed since 2000.

“We have a tremendous amount of young people living in this city. They love the outdoor dining places on Montana,” said Councilmember Robert Holbrook.

“They enjoy the ambience of coffee in the morning, seeing people, petting other people’s dogs and things like that. They don’t see it as a traffic or pedestrian problem,” he said.

Last year, the city received support from the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition, the North of Montana Association and the Montana Avenue Merchant Association, indicating a desire to allow more sidewalk dining on Montana Avenue.

City Planning Division officials said in a staff report to the City Council that sidewalk dining was once prohibited on Montana Avenue because some parts of the sidewalk were crowded at busy times such as lunch hour and weekends.

Sidewalk dining was also prohibited because street signs, light poles, parking meters and fire hydrants reduced the width of the sidewalk for pedestrians.

The city now believes that, with passage of the new ordinance, sidewalk dining will “enhance Montana Avenue’s pedestrian character by encouraging patrons to casually shop, walk, sit and enjoy.”

Newsstands will also be permitted on Montana Avenue.

INCIDENTAL USE — The new ordinance also permits retail establishments such as coffee shops, bakeries and delis to have sidewalk dining areas.

The businesses are defined as incidental food establishments and are subject to restrictions, including:

n food orders can’t be taken at the tables or seats;

n the total seating area can’t be more than 250 square feet or 33 percent of the retail space; and

n the total seating area can’t have more than 20 seats.

“Incidental food use is secondary use to a primary retail operation that has retail sales and products, but then also has a small food component with a limited amount of seating,” said Suzanne Frick, city director of planning and community development.

Councilmember Ken Genser used a Starbucks example to clarify incidental food use. The coffee shop has applied for a permit to operate a retail store on Montana Avenue with incidental food use.

Incidental food use establishments are not to be confused with restaurants, which must comply with a different permit process.

“A large number of residents of the neighborhood would think outdoor dining is an important amenity,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown.

“Incidental food use adds to the pedestrian nature of the street and is a good thing,” he said.

McKeown said the majority of pedestrians who will frequent incidental food use establishments come from neighborhoods surrounding Montana Avenue.

DESIGN STANDARDS — The new ordinance also allows the city to put square-foot limits on Montana Avenue development projects.

The maximum floor area ratio for a new building on a 7,500-square-foot parcel of land is now 4,500 square feet.

If the floor area ratio for a new development project is 5,000 square feet or higher, the City Planning Commission will closely review the project and seek greater public input during the permit process.

Prohibited on Montana Avenue are new cinemas, drive-in and drive-through restaurants, firearms dealerships, underground commercial parking structures, rooftop parking and “any use not specifically authorized.”

“The ordinance will enhance the pedestrian environment, enabling neighbors and customers alike to enjoy the ambience of the street,” Frick said.

HOTEL TAX — The City Council also approved a resolution to place a hotel room tax — a transient occupancy tax — increase measure on the Tuesday, November 2nd, ballot.

If voters approve the measure, the city tax on hotel rooms would be increased from 12 percent to 14 percent.

Council members said Santa Monica hotel taxes would be equal to hotel taxes in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

The city anticipates transient occupancy tax revenues of $1.6 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30th, and $3.5 million during the 2005-2006 fiscal year.

The City Council hopes voters will understand that hotel room taxes are local taxes that cannot be “taken by the State of California.”

Hotel room taxes will fund general operations such as police, fire, libraries, recreation and after-school programs.