Due to the impending review of the environmental impact report on Santa Monica’s future land use guidelines, City Councilman Kevin McKeown will be asking his council colleagues to place a “temporary hold” on all development agreements, including the massive mixed-use complex planned near Bergamot Station.
McKeown will make his request Tuesday, February 23rd at the council’s last meeting of the month.
Because the council will soon be voting on the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), McKeown feels that processing any agreements prior to taking action on the LUCE guidelines should be delayed.
“I am not proposing a development moratorium, which would require considerable preparatory legal work and findings before it could be enacted,” the councilman told The Argonaut. “What I’m putting on the (February 23rd) agenda for a council vote is direction to staff to put full priority on completing the LUCE.
“Temporarily, if my motion passes, we would process development agreements only to the extent that staff resources were not diverted from the LUCE, and we’d hold development agreements involving expansion or intensification of use off the Planning Commission and City Council agendas to let our public hearings focus on the specifics of the LUCE.”
Processing of this and other development agreement
applications would continue, as resources allow, to the extent that such resources are not diverted from timely completion of the LUCE, McKeown said.
The councilman’s proposal comes on the heels of recent resident anxiety about the nearly one million-square foot project, which will be located directly across from the light rail line of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Mid-City/Exposition Transit Project. The light rail project, which was greenlighted last week, will have three stops, including one at Bergamot.
The development project, which is being proposed by the Hines Group at the site of the former Paper Mate factory north of Olympic Boulevard, was presented to the public on December 15th. The Planning Commission reviewed the proposal in January and did not take a vote on it.
In addition to the Bergamot development, there are three other nearby projects in close proximity to each other that have some residents worried.
A five-story post-production facility and a LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), 3.85-acre mixed-use project are being proposed on Colorado Avenue 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.
McKeown also addressed the number of proposed developments and said a temporary “time-out” makes sense, given the fact that the vote on the LUCE document will occur in April.
“This would be a reasonable and relatively short delay in the continuing development agreement processes to allow the overarching planning work of the LUCE to be completed, giving our community an integrated master plan before we entitle
large individual projects piecemeal,” the councilman said.
The size and density of the multi-use development is one of the major sticking points with Santa Monica resident Zina Josephs, who attended the December public meeting.
“It’s simply too big. It’s nearly one million square feet on a parcel zoned for 300,000 square feet and nearly as tall as the huge Water Garden buildings next door,” said Josephs, a Sunset Park homeowner, referring to the 17-acre, 1.27 million-square foot office and restaurant complex.
Members of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, an organization that is opposed to overdevelopment and traffic, have initiated an e-mail campaign to draw residents’ attention to what the group calls a “giant” project.
“It would be three times the square-footage of what current zoning allows, up to 81 feet, or seven stories tall,” members of the group wrote in an e-mail February 3rd.
Santa Monica Planning and Community Development Director Eileen Fogarty acknowledges the anxiety that some residents are feeling over the proposed Hines plan. Most of the projects in the pipeline have not reached the stage of being recommended for environmental analysis, she pointed out.
“We realize that people have a concern about a number of the projects,” Fogarty told The Argonaut. “Everything is proceeding at a very slow pace right now, and most do not have environmental review (yet).
“Many are ‘float ups,’ or projects that have not received any formal direction.”
Fogarty said the commission had a variety of questions about the transit-oriented project, including size, scale and the lack of ground level open space.
Planning officials are seeking to assure residents that none of the developments will go forward until the EIR for the LUCE, which was released to the public in November, is approved.
“We heard the desire from the community that there be action on the LUCE so that there will be a sense of certainty about the projects,” Fogarty said.
Hines Vice President Colin Shepherd said that the complaint that he has heard most often about the Bergamot development is traffic.
“The questions most often asked have been about traffic mitigation,” he said. “While there has been some discussion about height, there are no residents that are adjacent to where we plan to build our project.”
Shepherd said one of the best ways to mitigate traffic is to create a system of workforce housing for city employees at the complex where they could potentially walk to work and generate fewer car trips, which Hines is strongly considering.
“It was very clear in our meeting with the citizens that they wanted to see more workforce housing. Now the question is, what is the definition of workforce housing,” he said.
Josephs is not convinced the idea will work.
“Developers keep talking about providing housing for local teachers, nurses, firefighters, and police officers. But it’s not clear that a beginning teacher in Santa Monica-Malibu earning $39,000 will be able to afford to live in the units,” Josephs, a former teacher, countered.
The Bergamot Transit Village is currently larger than the LUCE guidelines would permit, Fogarty said.
“The project is at a very early stage,” she added.
Shepherd, who noted that his company has participated in a variety of LUCE community meetings over the last three years, said it will continue to do so.
“We’ll do our best to follow and understand it as best we can,” he said.
Longtime Santa Monica resident Jerry Rubin likes what he has seen of Hines’ plan.
“I thought it had a very creative element to it, and it’s in an area that would benefit from having a light rail line,” he said. “It’s better to start planning now instead of waiting until later.”
Fogarty commended the public on the tone of the comments that the city has received about LUCE and the Bergamot project.
“They have been really thoughtful and they reflect the concerns about the projects that are proceeding,” she said.
It would take at least a year before an environmental impact report is developed for the Bergamot Transit Village project, pending its approval by the council, Shepherd said.
McKeown believes his motion will give city planners time to concentrate on the LUCE and the council an opportunity to access where the city is in terms of what it would like to see for future development.
“The multiple pending development agreement applications and ‘float-ups’ have absorbed tremendous amounts of staff and Planning Commission time, diverting resources from needed work on the LUCE,” he asserted. “It is difficult to assess the cumulative impacts of so many
development agreements when we don’t yet have a master plan, which the LUCE will provide.
“The shifting proposals for DAs have often exceeded even the upper range of entitlements contemplated under the LUCE, confusing an already difficult process of establishing community consensus on allowable heights, densities, and commercial versus residential land uses.”