City Planning Took Big Strides in 2010

Saturday, 1 Jan 2011, 10:50:00 PM

Hannah Heineman

Concept Station Rendering C (with an alternative park design) for the Downtown Exposition light rail station on 4th Street and Colorado. The view from northwest looking to southeast.
Rendering courtesy of the City of Santa Monica
Concept Station Rendering C (with an alternative park design) for the Downtown Exposition light rail station on 4th Street and Colorado. The view from northwest looking to southeast.

For city planning in Santa Monica, 2010 will be remembered as a significant year. A major reason was the adoption by the City Council of the update of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the City’s General Plan after a six-year process which involved extensive community input.

The land use element delineates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space, etc.) while the circulation element sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways, and other modes of transportation. This update will help determine the guidelines for the City’s development over the next 20 years.

Also significant this year was how the anticipated 2015 arrival of the Expo Light Rail in Santa Monica became a catalyst for an unprecedented number of development agreement (DA) proposals to be put forth by developers for the eastern end of the city. 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 City’s zoning standards. Three of the proposals are discussed below.

One of those proposals was made by Hines 26th Street, LLC. They wish to build a transit-oriented, mixed used village they are calling Bergamot Transit Village Center Project at 1681 26th Street (the former Papermate site).

The proposed project would consist of five buildings of an average height of six stories that would be built on a 7.1 acre site is located across the street from the future Expo Light-Rail Bergamot station. The Draft Environmental Impact (DEIR) process for this project began on Dec. 7 with a City of Santa Monica scoping meeting held to determine what issues should be analyzed in the DEIR.

Also proposed was a DA between Agensys and the City, which the City Council approved in September. Agensys, a Japanese owned biotechnology company focusing on the development of drugs to treat cancer, has been operating in Santa Monica since 1997 at five different sites. The approval of the DA means that they can combine all their Santa Monica operations into a headquarters that will be built at a four-acre site at 1800 Stewart Street. The site is owned by the City and is adjacent to the site that eventually will become Bergamot Station when the Expo Light Rail line is completed in 2015. The headquarters height will be from 45-50 feet which would be permitted under the new LUCE because Agensys included a number of public benefits.

Another proposal was made by Stonehenge Holdings Incorporated for a mixed-use project called Bundy Village and Medical Park which would be located at 1901, 1925, and 1933 South Bundy and 12333 Olympic Boulevard in the City of Los Angeles. The approximate $500 million, 11-acre project would consist of medical facilities, retail/commercial space, and market-rate and affordable senior housing residential units. About forty percent of the project would be open and green space.

This project proposal is important to Santa Monica because the project, if built, would be located just outside the city’s boundaries and have a tremendous impact on traffic. Continued opposition from both Santa Monica and West Los Angeles residents and others based on traffic concerns has delayed its approval by the Los Angeles City Council. They will be considering a modified version of the project again in early 2011.

Development Agreement compliance was another big issue this year. A study by the City’s Planning Department was sent to the City Council as an Information Item on Feb. 23 about DAs that were out of compliance. The Council asked that they now receive annual reports so that they can more closely monitor compliance.

Legal action was taken by the City Attorney’s office after it was learned that the Dorchester House which is a luxury condominium complex located at 1040 – 1044 Fourth Street had violated its DA. The violation occurred because 15 of the building’s first floor units are not being used for affordable housing purposes.

A city lawsuit was also filed this past February against Blackrock Realty Advisors Incorporated, the owner of The Plaza at the Arboretum. The 350-unit complex is located at 2200 Colorado Avenue. This was in response to numerous and widespread violations of the affordable housing deed restrictions that were part of Blackrock’s DA with the City for its 97 affordable units. The Arboretum’s DA was entered into in 1987. Therefore, the affordable housing violations have been occurring for 23 years.

St. John’s Health Center has decided to ask the City if they can delay the construction of their DA required $35 million, 422-space subterranean garage because their building budgets were exceeded during their other construction phases. The garage was supposed to be located underneath the new plaza that the health center would be constructing at the site of its old South Tower.

Also this year, the 10-acre Santa Monica Place $270 million remodel was completed and the mall re-opened on Aug. 6. The redeveloped mall now contains 550,000 square feet of leasable space distributed on three-levels and a center court like you might find in Europe. Half of that space is occupied by its anchor stores, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. The rest includes over 80 retailers as well as the rooftop dining deck.

Lastly, a collaborative community design process for the two new Civic Center parks that were envisioned in the Civic Center Specific Plan began in July and in December the Council gave its approval of the schematic design that came out of that process.

One of those parks will be the six-acre Palisades Garden Walk Park which is located directly across from City Hall and bounded by Main Street, Ocean Avenue, the I-10 freeway, and the extension of Olympic Drive. This is the former RAND site. The other one-acre Town Square Park will be located directly in front of City Hall from the City Hall’s steps down to Main Street.

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