Santa Monica may have a skyline spotted with a few more
high-rises, though some residents would like to have a say in whether the
City’s skyline is altered in the first place. More than 300 people – at least
325 people had formally signed-in – filled a community room at the Civic
Auditorium on Monday evening to give their two cents about the Downtown
The Downtown Specific Plan is still a work in progress,
according to City staff. Community and Strategic Planning Manager Francie
Stefan told the town hall’s attendees no final decisions had been made on what
would be included within the Downtown Specific Plan.
There were proposals, though, which included new density
requirements and permitting procedures for developers who seek to exceed
certain height restrictions.
Interestingly enough, there were eight “opportunity
sites” where the rules and regulations of the Downtown Specific Plan would not
At the heart of the town hall-style meeting coordinated
by City Hall and the Planning Commission was whether or not height restrictions
should be eased for developers who want to build projects near the Santa Monica
coastline, including plans for a high-rise building designed by Frank Gehry and
another skyscraper at the Fairmont Miramar.
There were some attendees at the meeting who were
vehemently opposed to the Downtown Specific Plan allowing for additional growth
and density within Santa Monica’s urban core. Others seemed willing to have
height restrictions eased if developers made concessions for affordable
So what is in a plan?
During Stefan’s presentation to the standing-room only
crowd, a few statistics were highlighted. For example, City Hall may require
developers to obtain a permit to build a structure between 32 and 39 feet. For
projects higher than 40 feet, developers would have to make additional
concessions. The upper limit of height restrictions: 84 feet. However, some
projects may exceed that height.
The plan also proposes to manipulate density so as to
make certain developments not look as large or tall.
According to a City staff presentation to the Planning
Commission in March, the intent of the Downtown Specific Plan is to limit
growth opportunities to the “approximately four percent of the City located
closest to transit.”
The plan hopes to maximize growth and user experience in
Santa Monica’s downtown core without, ideally, bringing in new traffic.
Walkability is the heart of the success of the Downtown
Specific Plan and any activity taking place within the downtown core, according
to City staff.
City staff stated both to the Planning Commission and to
those attending the May 6 town hall meeting that the Downtown Specific Plan is
guided by the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
It was also mentioned by City staff that the key goals of
the plan would focus on investment, reduce new vehicle trips (as per the LUCE),
support economic health, maximize livability and sustainability, and connect
downtown to the Civic Center and the beaches.
City staff said it hopes the plan will preserve character
of historic buildings and the character of surrounding streets and spaces while
also enhancing walking, driving, biking, and transit circulation.
After Stefan’s staff report, community members came up to
the microphone one by one to express their respective opinions and perspectives
of the Downtown Specific Plan.
Some residents seemed to be supportive of some of the
prospective growth and development that could be spawned by the plan. Still
others believed the plan would open the door to high-end developments that
would not only reach for the sky but also dramatically increase traffic in the
Some residents who were worried about the direction the
Downtown Specific Plan was heading pointed to one proposed project as the
poster child of what they do not want to see in Santa Monica’s urban core –
Santa Monica resident and architect Frank Gehry’s proposed designs for a
22-story hotel to be built on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean
Another cause for concern for those residents who
believed Santa Monica’s identity would be dramatically altered for the worse:
the arrival of high-rise developments at eight “opportunity sites.”
“The LUCE identified specific sites near transit in the
downtown that could accommodate mixed use development and provide significant
benefits,” City staff told planning commissioners in March. “Each site would be
expected to meet the overarching circulation standards and guidelines such as,
but not limited to, contributing to the public realm, pedestrian orientation,
walkability and multimodal circulation. In addition, these sites would be
expected to provide significant site specific community benefits.”
There were many longtime residents who voiced their
respective opposition to the potential developments of opportunity sites,
worrying these dense projects that would exceed height restrictions would
dramatically change the personality of Santa Monica. These residents hoped city
planners would limit developments to between two and four stories in order to
preserve Santa Monica’s not-so-urban character and ocean views.
Countering the status quo were some residents who were
not too concerned with traffic and hoped developers would provide more
affordable housing in exchange for building taller buildings.
Check out next week’s edition of The Mirror for more
perspectives from Monday’s town hall meeting.
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