We live in a democracy of gratification. Our can-do optimism along with our head-in-the-sand approach leads to a mindset of profit rather than quality of life. And after witnessing years of polarization in Washington our own Santa Monica community and culture has also managed to become divided.
The planning commission should consider a win-win compromise for both the developers and the community with regard to height and density in the downtown – a compromise that would retain the beachfront scale and character of Santa Monica while also providing developers with some “upside.”
Give developers an increase to 135 ft for the eight “specified” sites to go along with the additional density which is available in the remaining zoned areas given the fact they are somewhat underdeveloped.
This is in exchange for reducing tier 3 zoning to a more realistic 35-75 ft allowing 3-7 stories with FAR’s from 2.25-5.0.
Height and density would terrace up from Lincoln (35 ft, 2.25 FAR) to 4th (75 ft, 5.0 FAR) and down from 2nd (55 ft, 3.5 FAR) to Ocean (35 ft, 2.25 FAR).
If the development community won’t compromise, then just proceed with the existing 85 ft maximum allowed under LUCE at the eight sites and reduce existing zones to 35-75 ft with required affordable housing being part of the community benefit package and not an increase in FAR.
Additionally, changes to height and density in downtown should not proceed without also including provisions in the zoning code currently being revised to:
1) widen sidewalks with required front yard setbacks open to the sky
2) create mid-block pedestrian walkways as part of a community benefit package
3) require offsets above 1st or 2nd floors at front and sideyards
4) reduce FARs further where projects cover multiple lots
5) require open space to be visible from the public r.o.w.
6) incentives to retain some low-rise buildings to provide needed variation.
This is all possible within the “open space envelope” of the FAR. And there’s no reason these basics can’t be agreed upon before any more of these dreadful building blocks get approved!
Regarding the “iconic” conversation and the necessity of greater building heights, San Francisco is “iconic” because of its topography, water, bridges and cable cars – not because of its hi-rise buildings.
Downtown LA’s nod to “iconic” is Disney Hall, or possibly the proposed LACMA and Peterson Museums in the future – none of which are hi-rise.
What is “iconic” about Santa Monica is the ocean, Palisades park, the pier, and it’s beachfront character – let’s not lose it!
And with regard to condos above hotel rooms, they could also be assessed a yearly room tax – equivalent in area occupied by the number of hotel rooms below and the elevated views they enjoy.
There’s just no reason this can’t be an environmental and economic win-win.
Santa Monica resident & architect
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