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Planning Commission Revisits Hot-Button Pico Project


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January 31, 2019 -- The City Planning Commission Wednesday night will vote on a proposed 19-unit condominium development that has been a flash point in the battle to stop gentrification in the Pico Neighborhood.

The two proposed two-story townhouse buildings one block from Virginia Avenue Park would replace nine one-story buildings that contain 15 rent control units, according to Planning Department staff.

Virginia Avenue condo elevation
North elevation on Virginia Avenue (Renderings courtesy of Park Virginia, LLC)

Some of the buildings are eligible for local landmark designation, staff said.

Since the project went before the Commission in May 2014, the developer -- Park Virginia, LLC -- has dropped two very-low-income units on-site and will instead pay an in-lieu fee, staff said.

The developer also has made improvements in the "quality and design" of the project as requested by the Planning Commission, according to the staff report.

"The project has incorporated a number of significant changes intended to address the Planning Commission’s recommendations," staff said in its report.

The 27,370-square-foot development surrounds a central courtyard and includes two-bedroom units ranging from 1,105 to 1,512 sqaure feet, with two underground parking spaces per townhouse.

The project includes 20 long-term bicycle parking spaces in the garage and six short-term spaces on the street.

Virginia Avenue condo project alley elevation
West (alley) elevation

Among the significant adverse impacts the project poses is the "irreversible loss of buildings" that are eligible for City Landmark designation and the "unanticipated discovery of archaeological resources."

Under the proposed "Statement of Overriding Considerations," the developer would retain a qualified archaeologist that "shall be contacted in the event of an inadvertent archaeologist discovery.

The developer also would document the courtyard apartment buildings at 2002-2008 21st Street designated as a "Structures of Merit" before they are demolished.

The developer also submitted a plan to minimize traffic and parking impacts "on the surrounding roadway network" during construction.

The original 21-unit project unveiled five years ago prompted the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) to launch the Better Neighborhood Same Neighbors Campaign, said Maria Loya, one of the leaders of the group.

"We saw what it was going to do to our community," Loya said, adding that the proposed project's "impact to long-term residents and our neighborhood still remains the same."

"The project will displace long-term residents and dramatically changes the character of our neighborhood," said Loya, who is a plaintiff in the voting rights lawsuit against the City.

"This condo-conversion project presents the Planning Commissioners and the City Council with an opportunity to put to action the numerous statements about how they want to protect the diversity and character of our neighborhood."

The proposed project comes before the Planning Commission as planning officials embark on a long-awaited initiative to preserve the Pico Neighborhood from a wave of gentrification that threatens its character and affordable housing supply ("Santa Monica Planning Officials to Embark on Pico Neighborhood Plan," September 6, 2018).

Last January, the City Council voted to make a zoning plan for Santa Monica's least wealthy and most diverse area its top planning priority.

The Council first identified the issue when the Virginia Avenue project was first proposed in May 2015.

The previous year, the Pico Neighborhood had been hit with a skyrocketing number of rental evictions ("Mapping Shows Pico Neighborhood Ground Zero for Skyrocketing Evictions in Santa Monica," August 27, 2015).

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