A resolution to delay review of Development Agreements (DAs) by the Planning Commission or City Council until after the updated Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) are adopted was rejected by the City Council by a vote of 5 to 2 on February 23.
City Council member Kevin McKeown put the resolution forth because he was concerned that the recent and up coming review of so many development agreement float-ups was distracting City Staff, the Planning Commission, and the City Council from concentrating their efforts to finalize the LUCE. A float-up is a process unique to the City of Santa Monica and allows developers to get input from the community, the Planning Commission, and the City Council while their project is in the conceptual stage so they can correct any major problems.
A DA is agreed to by Santa Monica and a developer when the developer offers the city public benefits in exchange for being permitted to develop their project with parameters that are outside of the of the City’s zoning standards.
Prior to the vote, the developers, their attorneys and others praised the float-up process and against the resolution but the residents spoke in support of McKeown’s resolution. Land Use Attorney Chris Harding who was representing the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce’s Land Use Committee stated, “The float-up is a valuable voluntary process. The applicants know they must comply with the LUCE.”
Planning Commissioner Gwynne Pugh told the Council that the “float-ups are informative” and the project’s DAs would not be approved until after the Final LUCE is adopted.
The City’s Director of Planning and Community Development, Eileen Fogerty, explained to the Council that the Planning Commission and the City Council as well as her department “would be going into intensive meetings in April and May where the LUCE would take priority.” She also mentioned that the Planning Commission would be having a meeting that would be devoted to looking at the cumulative effects generated by all the DAs being proposed near the future light rail station in the city’s Light Manufacturing District.
The Mirror attempted to contact some of the developers with pending DAs with Santa Monica but was only able to speak with representatives from two projects. The first one was from Hines, the company who wants to develop 1681 26th Street, the former Papermate site. Their Senior Vice President.
Colin Shepard told the Mirror that his company has been “working with the Planning Department for several years” to make sure their project complies with the updated LUCE. Their representatives also attended all the LUCE community workshops so they could hear what parameters the community thought was important for a project. He also stated that the timing of his project’s float-up process had very little to due with trying to have the project’s DA approved before the Final LUCE is approved.
The Mirror also spoke with the architect, Howard Laks, for the 710 Wilshire project which includes an adaptive re-use of an existing landmarked building. Their goal according to Laks is “to make sure the project is consistent with both the current LUCE and the LUCE update when adopted.” He noted that adaptive reuse of historic landmarks is a priority in the Draft LUCE. He also mentioned that if the resolution had been approved it would have delayed the project’s float-up City Council hearing in May and that hearing had already been pushed back from February.
The Council majority’s vote reflected their agreement with Council member Richard Bloom’s statement that the city’s current DA review “process is working.” The only other Council member that voted in favor of McKeown’s resolution was Gleam Davis.
After the meeting McKeown told the Mirror “In just the next few months, there are now over a dozen separate DA hearings scheduled before the Planning Commission and City Council, at each of which a pending DA will be considered in isolation, without the context that an adopted LUCE would provide. "Residents concerned about cumulative impacts, including those on traffic, would have to evaluate each project separately, instead of working with the Council to complete the LUCE first and have an integrated master plan in place."
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