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New Planning Guide for Downtown Santa Monica Envisions No Major Redevelopment

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

February 16, 2016 -- Less than 15 percent of Santa Monica's already “built-out” Downtown will be redeveloped in the next 20, with most new projects adding more open space, affordable housing and infrastructure and mobility improvements, according to a planning document released Friday.

Culminating four years of meetings and public review, the 271-page Downtown Community Plan, formerly called the Downtown Specific Plan, basically preserves the downtown region's blend of housing, retail, entertainment and restaurants by establishing regulations and controls for future growth.

The plan's introductory chapter, “A Vision for the Future,” sets the overall goals of the document. It asks readers to imagine Santa Monica in the year 2036 —a vision that retains most of the area's existing features, including Downtown's mix of historic and modern architecture, its restaurants and entertainment.

But in the future described in the plan, most Downtown Santa Monica residents live, work and play within their community and “use their cars infrequently.”

“Some live car-free.”

In subsequent sections, the plan builds upon such established City priorities as reducing traffic by creating more places for people to walk and socialize and more bike-friendly streets. It also addresses traditional City concerns such as historic preservation, air and water quality, and mobility.

“The emphasis is on moving people in every mode, with the goal of getting everyone safely and comfortably to their destinations, including publicly accessible parking facilities,” reads the plan.

The document defines Downtown's boundaries as Wilshire Boulevard on the north; Lincoln Court, the area that extends about a block beyond Lincoln Boulevard, on the east; the Santa Monica Freeway on the south; and Ocean Avenue on the west.

That area is larger than Downtown's boundaries as listed in the City's previous general plans because the new plan projects an expanding residential zone spreading out from Downtown over the next 20 years.

To sustain the area's mix of housing and varied commercial space including offices, retail and restaurants, the plan would establish six new “land-use districts,” or sub-areas, each with its own set of zoning and codes standards “derived from its existing character and its geographic location.”

The districts include: Mixed-Use Boulevard, Neighborhood Village, Transit Adjacent, Bayside Conservation, Wilshire Transition, and Ocean Transition.

“The Downtown area is made up of different character areas that vary in overall density, land use mix, height, massing, and permeability of the buildings along the street. The walk down Santa Monica Boulevard or Arizona Avenue from Ocean to Lincoln reveals clearly legible ‘layers’ of character areas,” the plan reads.

The plan's overall shape was guided by the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element, which envisions Downtown Santa Monica as “a thriving, mixed-use urban environment that provides multiple opportunities for living, working, entertainment and enrichment.”

“The LUCE envisioned an energetic and contemporary Downtown for residents, employees and visitors that integrates the light rail and preserves the unique character of the district and its commercial and residential life,” said Constance Farrell, the City's public information coordinator, in a news release Friday. “The LUCE also called for enhancing Downtown through better linkages to some of City's most visible attractions: the Civic Center and the Beachfront.”

But the LUCE stopped short of adopting regulations and zoning for implementing that vision, instead deferring to the Downtown Community Plan to come up with specifics.

“This is a living document to guide our efforts to strengthen a ‘hometown’ Downtown,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “By collaborating to do 'real planning' we can establish binding standards to protect our unique sense of place and ensure future infill development compliments our historic character.”

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