Interim Zoning Ordinance To Allow Auto Dealer Extensions

Tuesday, 21 Aug 2012, 2:10:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

Santa Monica has lost nine auto dealerships in 11 years, but a reinstituted Interim Zoning Ordinance (IZO) may make the City a little more appealing for existing dealers to stay long-term.

City Council members voted unanimously last Tuesday to reinstitute an ordinance that expired in 2010 that will now allow auto dealerships within Santa Monica to expand their facilities by as much as 750 square feet.

City Hall anticipates having the permanent zoning ordinance in play at some point in 2013.

“The proposed extensions include changes allowing small expansions of automobile dealer-related uses that will contribute to the vibrancy and economic diversity of Santa Monica,” City staff said. “The expansions would be limited to less than 750 square feet, and would be required to be designed in ways that are compatible with adjacent uses, and have appropriate screening where necessary.”

With that permanent zoning ordinance looming, many Santa Monica residents were concerned about the allowance of the auto dealerships to expand, with concerns of whether such an expansion is consistent with the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).

“This seems to violate one of the primary goals of the LUCE, which is to protect residential neighborhoods,” resident Zina Josephs said. “There is some concern about how this will affect residents in various neighborhoods in the city.”

Another resident, Ellen Hannan of Mid-City Neighbors, added previous zoning ordinances that governed auto dealerships in residential areas allowed those dealerships a passive right to share the neighborhood with surrounding residents. Since the proposed ordinance allows for new commercial space to be built, Hannan argued the auto dealerships would be much more active between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. – to the detriment of the residents.

“This is a zoning issue. This is special zoning for special interest only,” Hannan said.

Former Planning Commissioner Hank Koning, who lives in a residence that includes a view of an auto dealership, said more dialog is needed before making final decisions about zoning.

“I think we need to have a study so that we can really make this work better for the residents,” he said.

Meanwhile, attorney Chris Harding said while the IZO’s policy is sound there may be certain details within the ordinance that may be worth a second look.

“We need to take a fresh look at the details,” he said. “The direction is fine. The policy is fine, but there are important detail issues that … we would like to meet and talk to staff about, and talk to neighbors about.”

Council member Bob Holbrook put a practical spin on this issue, saying that by giving auto dealer owners flexibility to add a little space to the dealerships would help keep jobs in the city and revenue flowing into City Hall.

“We’re not looking at another building,” Holbrook said. “It’s very little minor things.”

Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis added while she understands the community’s concerns, adoption of the current IZO standards does not mean the same standard would remain in effect when the permanent zoning ordinance is instituted.

Instead, the current IZO standard merely continues the standards council members set in 2006. That standard, according to City staff, attempted to “better balance the need for auto dealerships to expand and develop a more urban format within a context of limited land availability and close proximity to sensitive residential uses.”

“All we’re doing is reinstituting what the council back in 2006 adopted. Nothing bad, as far as I know, … has happened. We didn’t take existing housing and turn them into auto dealers,” Davis said. “I just don’t want to create a presumption that whatever we’re approving here tonight should automatically be carried over into a final zoning ordinance.”

The IZO, which expired Aug. 8, 2010 before being reinstituted this past week, is extended through Aug. 13, 2013.

City Manager Rod Gould pointed out that Santa Monica has lost nine dealerships in 11 years.

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