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New Condo Construction Picking Up Pace in Santa Monica


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 21, 2017 -- By twos and threes and, in a few cases, bundled in luxury mixed-use hotels proposed for downtown, the construction of new condominiums is picking up steam in Santa Monica for the first time in years.

As the City embarks on a future embracing a dramatic rise in mostly five- to -seven-story mixed-use apartment buildings, new condos are, or soon will be, springing up in prime locations along the beach, Ocean Park, downtown and elsewhere.

The City’s development pipeline includes 192 condos among the 3.2 million square feet of proposed new building, according to planning data.

The amount of condo construction on the horizon is not unwieldy -- especially compared to 1990, said David Martin, the City’s director of planning and community development.

Proposed Ocean Avenue Condo Project
Proposed condominium project at 423-429 Ocean Avenue (Renderings courtesyAdele Chang/LCRA Architects)

Back then, the city council was worried enough about the issue to reduce the number of units built in the North of Wilshire neighborhood unless developers constructed more affordable housing, Martin said.

Nearly three decades later, City planners are again expressing concern about the impact of small condo complexes on the character of neighborhoods that have historically been home to single-family residences and duplexes.

Ocean Park has planning officials particularly worried now, as proposals to build profitable condos roll in.

Under the zoning law, those projects are not subject to control or review by the City Planning Commission. They are also small enough to avoid an ordinance mandating on- or off-site housing for projects of four units or more, officials said.

Additional protections are being discussed now to help “prevent the loss of single-family residences/duplexes into multi-unit projects,” City planners said in an August 2 report to the planning commission.

The concern is that 3-unit tract maps are changing the character of Ocean Park (and could be doing so elsewhere as well) from eclectic single-family homes to similar-looking multi-unit structures, the report said.

“Multi-unit rental projects would be allowed administratively and not be subject to review by Planning Commission,” staff wrote.

For members of the city’s slow-growth movement, more condo projects are evidence of what they say is over-development of the beach city -- and with six- and seven-figure costs unaffordable to all but the wealthy.

The new projects are popping up “all over the city,” said Tricia Crane of the Northeast Neighbors Association and a co-author of Measure LV, a failed attempt on last November's ballot to slow new building ("Backers of Defeated Santa Monica Slow-Growth Measure Blame Development Money, Claim Success," November 10, 2016).

By far, the largest concentration of condos in the pipeline is downtown in proposed hotel-mixed use projects.

At the top of the list in the proposed reconstruction of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel downtown. Originally, the project proposed to add 40 affordable apartments and as many as 120 condos before being withdrawn for redesign after its May 2013 unveiling.

It has not yet been resubmitted to the City, but the new proposal is expected to include condos.

Also on the list is the proposed mixed-use hotel project at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard designed by Frank Gehry. The 338,695- square foot development includes 19 replacement rent-controlled apartments and 22 condos.

Like the Miramar, the Gehry hotel proposal originally reached a height that exceeded the then-existing zoning rules and were among the projects that helped spark the Measure LV revolt.

Both projects will need to comply with the newly approved Downtown Community Plan, which caps heights at 130 feet on three sites -- the Miramar site, the site of the Gehry designed project and "Plaza at Santa Monica" on 4th/5th streets and Arizona Avenue ("Santa Monica Council Sets Highest Affordable Housing Requirement in State for Downtown," July 27, 2017).

The new condos likely will fetch top prices based on the current market.

The three available condominiums for sale at Park Plaza, 515 Ocean Avenue, on the City's wealthy north shore, are currently going for between nearly $2 million and $5.8 million, according to listing on the web.

The rise on condo construction and the high prices they fetch have worried some civicc leaders in the past ("Proposed Luxury Condos Spark Debate about Santa Monica's Character," July 29, 2013).

While the largest concentration of condos is proposed for downtown high-rises, smaller projects are cropping up across the city, some replacing buildings from the city’s distant past.

For instance, a modest “Craftsman-style” home built in 1910 -- the oldest left in the city’s Green Acres tract -- is set to be demolished for a two-story condominium building with three units.

The City’s Planning Commission voted for the project in February ("Oldest Home in Santa Monica’s Century-Old 'Green Acres' Set to Become Condos," August 3, 2017).

This month, a final official approval was given to the removal of landmarked apartments for a 12-unit condo project at 423-429 Ocean Avenue ("Santa Monica Landmark Courtyard Apartment Buildings Set for Formal Approval in Condominium Project," August 2, 2017).

A portion of the original 1936 construction is preserved, but three new buildings of two, three and four stories are being constructed on the site.

Meanwhile, one of the only significantly-sized condo developments built in recent years in the city is now offering a mixture of single-story garden flats and two-level townhomes.

Situated on 14th Street, just blocks from the Expo Line, floor plans range from 1,012 square feet to twice that amount. Sales prices begin in the high $900,000s.

As of now, five additional condo projects are in the City Hall pipeline. All are either two or three-unit developments in Ocean Park. Only administrative approval is required.


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