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Stage Set for Final Battle Over Downtown Santa Monica Development Plan
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 23, 2017 -- After more than six years in the making, the final draft of Santa Monica's Downtown Community Plan (DCP) will be released April 12, City officials announced Wednesday, setting the stage for the final battle over future development in the heart of the city.

When it is eventually approved by the City Council, the DCP will dictate how much new development will be allowed downtown through 2030, the mass and height limits for new buildings, the amount of open space and related issues.

Staff is putting the final touches on the plan, and a final vote is anticipated sometime this spring, according to the City's web site for the plan.

The most recent iteration of the DCP was unveiled in November and followed an unprecedented eight-month outreach effort by the City. Reaction to the plan and the outreach campaign, however, was far from unanimous ("New Santa Monica Downtown Development Plan Spurs More Worries," November 22, 2016).

Left unresolved was the crucial issue of heights limits for large-scale developments. Staff says it has learned that locals and visitors alike prefer small and medium-sized businesses, want more open space, new streetscapes on Lincoln, Wilshire, Ocean and 4th Streets and an emphasis on historic preservation.

“Overall, the feedback we got reflected support for the building-height strategy that is represented in the DCP, which limits height in the historic core anchored by the Third Street Promenade, and establishes higher densities near the transit corridor,” the staff said on the DCP’s website.

“However, on the subject of exceeding what has been Downtown’s traditional height limit of 84 feet for the past 30 years, the community demonstrated a wide range of opinions, with many supporting increased heights in return for more open space, and an equal number voicing opposition,” staff said.

In all, the latest plan would allow up to 3.22 million square feet in net new development, nearly the entire 3.8 million square feet in the City’s development pipeline.

Since the city is all but built out, critics of the plan are worried that future building has nowhere to go but up -– blocking the city’s famed sunshine and sea breezes and worsening traffic congestion.

City planners have said the amount of building allowed is no different from past plans and involves only a small portion of the city’s core. This time, however, they vow that evolving plans to usher in a new era of "multi-modality" for Santa Monica will prevent vehicular traffic from increasing.

The DCP will decide the fate of major projects, including three developments that have spurred opposition from the local slow-growth movement.

The 12-story Plaza at Santa Monica, a mixed-use project on 2.5 acres of City-owned land at 4th/5th and Arizona, is being scaled back.

Also being re-designed is the renovation of the Fairmont-Miramar Hotel, originally a 568,940 square foot proposal that featured a 320-foot-tall tower. A new plan has not yet been submitted.

A Frank Gehry-designed hotel that would encompass 338,695 square feet and reach a height of 255 feet also is awaiting approval of the DCP.

Slow-growth concern about the DCP helped inspire Measure LV, a height-control initiative that was soundly defeated in the November 8 election.

The local union hotel workers embrace taller buildings, but representatives said the City’s outreach campaign missed its members, who are mostly Spanish speakers.


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