Santa Monica Lookout
|Three Proposed High-Rises Among Major Santa Monica Projects Awaiting Fate of LUVE||
By Niki Cervantes
July 19, 2016 -- A trio of five-story apartment buildings proposed for the high-rise remake of part of Santa Monica’s Lincoln Boulevard inched through the City’s clogged development pipeline toward eventual approval Monday.
But no matter what City Hall decides, it could make little difference if Santa Monica voters approve the Land Use Voters Empowerment initiative, or LUVE, placed on the November 8 ballot by slow-growth advocates.
From a three-story fire station set for downtown to high rises for renters to towering hotels in the city’s core, nearly all sizable projects now proposed for Santa Monica appear to violate the LUVE initiative, said David Martin, the City’s director of planning and community development.
“We haven’t gone through and really done a thorough analysis,” Martin told the Lookout Monday. “It’s pretty safe to say most of the projects are subject to LUVE if it passes.”
Martin said, it is possible that all but “one or two” of the major projects approved by City Hall would require voter approval under the measure, which calls for a public vote on most projects taller than 32 feet. “It’s amazing,” Martin said.
As of June, the City’s list of major development proposals totaled 35 projects, almost all of them taller than allowed without a public vote by LUVE -- although one set of blueprints for apartments on Virginia Avenue missed the cut off by a foot.
Two concept reviews were presented Monday to the City’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) for apartments buildings that would replace older, single-story retailers, including Denny’s and JoAnn Fabrics, with five-story mixed-use buildings mainly featuring residential units above street-level retail.
The proposal for the site at 1641-1645 Lincoln calls for 66 residential units, of which 10 are reserved for low-income earners, while the proposal for 1613-1637 Lincoln, would replace the vacant building formerly occupied by Wertz Bros and Jo Ann Fabrics with 192 apartments, of which 15 are low-income units.
Both projects feature retail on the ground floor and, as with many such developments, underground parking. Concept reviews are not voted on by the ARB, which provided general feedback Monday.
A third proposal reviewed by the ARB was a 100 percent affordable-living apartment building at 1626 Lincoln with 64 units that includes ground-level space for such services as health and job seeking for tenants only.
The low-income apartments on Lincoln approved by the ARB were required by the City Council as part of a development agreement approved in May for 500 Broadway -- itself a mixed-use development near the Expo Light Rail station downtown. The project would replace a Fred Segal complex with 249 units and ground floor businesses including a grocery store ("Council Approves Downtown Santa Monica Mixed-Use Project Near Rail Station," May 16, 2016).
While most 100 percent affordable housing projects are exempted under LUVE, the main developments that are required to provide the all-affordable housing, such as 500 Broadway, would need voter approval.
Many of the big developments in the City’s pipeline are similar to those on Lincoln and reflect a goal by the City Council to address a housing shortage that has hit Santa Monica as well as the rest of the Los Angeles metro area.
Taller developments that helped inspire LUVE are on the City’s pending list as well, including the 12-story mixed-use development on property owned by the City at 4th/5th and Arizona.
Other projects that fueled the measure by Residocracy include a 21-story overhaul of the aging Fairmont Miramar Hotel on Ocean Avenue. The developer pulled initial plans after vocal oppostion that included a mail campaign and has not yet submitted an alternative plan.
Miramar is joined on the list by the Gehry Hotel at 101 Santa Monica Boulevard, a proposed 22-story luxury hotel that includes 125 hotel rooms and 22 condominiums, as well as two stories of ground-floor restaurants and retail ("New Gehry Building Planned in Downtown Santa Monica," March 1, 2013).
Developers have also planned a 36,000-square-foot art museum immediately north of the site to incorporate two landmarked structures and a new museum building, also designed by Frank Gehry. A three-floor, 460-space subterranean parking garage would fit underneath.
The City Council, along with many civic leaders and members of Santa Monica’s political establishment, says LUVE is too restrictive and will deter plans to increase housing, particularly for those with low incomes.
But Armen Melkonians, who co-authored LUVE, said the City's 35-item list of pending projects is proof that overdevelopment is on the horizon without the intervention of a tough measure like LUVE.
Melkonians said he's not worried that those projects would result in a multitude of special local elections and noted that the City's report on LUVE's potential impact didn't predict such an outcome.
It's more likely big developments either will be pulled and replaced by projects small enough to avoid a LUVE vote or be resubmitted as plans that are palatable and include more generous community benefits, he said.
"If they are good projects with the right kind of community benefits, the voters will approve them," Melkonians said.
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