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Council Permanently Bans Market-Rate "Micro Units," At Least For Now
By Jorge Casuso
May 15, 2019 -- The City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to permanently ban market rate "micro units" in Santa Monica but will revisit the issue later this year.
While amending the zoning code to ban market-rate Single Room Occupancy (SRO) developments, the Council acknowledged the units -- which range from 220 to 375 square feet -- could fill a niche in the local housing market.
The ordinance excludes 100 percent affordable housing projects or certain specialized housing uses such as emergency shelters, transitional housing and supportive housing citywide.
"I have a serious concern about taking (market rate) SROs out of the mix," said Mayor Gleam Davis. "In this day and age there is a role for (them) but we really haven't figured it out yet."
The Council's action toes the line between planning staff's recommendation to amend the zoning ordinance and the Planning Commission's recommendation to allow the micro-units with certain conditions.
"The Planning Commission is concerned we don't write off (market-rate) SROs," said Chair Mario Fonda-Bonardi. "The Planning Commission feels they should be explored."
The Commission recommended that the units be leased for at least one year, a restriction staff will explore before returning to the Council with its recommendations.
"We wanted to move as far away from a hotel model as possible to permanent housing," Fonda-Bonardi said.
The micro units pose a "full spectrum problem," he said.
Would they be furnished? Would the tiny kitchens be too small to cook regular meals? How would tenants get around without parking"
These restrictions could boost costs if tenants have to rent furniture, eat out more and take Uber, he said.
There's also the concern the units would serve as corporate housing, Fonda-Bonardi said.
"A developer found a tiny loophole in the code and wants to drive a truck through it," he said.
Council members acknowledge the issue only surfaced after WS Communities found a loophole in the code and applied for permits to build six market-rate SRO developments totaling 361 units in the Downtown.
Earlier this month, the Planning Commission found the proposed projects failed to comply with the common space requirements under a temporary ordinance ("Planning Commission Rejects Council's Request to Propose Ban on "Micro Units," May 2, 2019).
The developer's attorney said the restrictions placed by the temporary ordinance approved by the Council in April violate state law.
Anticipated litigation concerning the six proposed projects was among the items on the Council's closed session agenda Tuesday.
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