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Council to Consider Stricter Guidelines for Condos

By Jorge Casuso

In an effort to preserve the character of Santa Monica's residential neighborhoods, the City Council Tuesday night is expected to pass measures to rein in the biggest flurry of condominium development in a decade.

The council will consider an emergency ordinance that would require developers to obtain a permit that controls the design and site layout of condominium projects. It also will consider implementing a program to limit the number of projects in close proximity under construction at one time.

The proposed changes to the city's Housing Element come three weeks before an emergency moratorium on the construction and demolition of multi-family housing is set to expire. The moratorium was approved last May after 30 new condominium projects, with 176 units, were submitted to the city between March 1998 and April 1999 for land use entitlement approvals.

"The purpose of the moratorium," according to the staff report, "was to allow time for the City to evaluate and develop requirements and programs to preserve the City's character, diversity, and quality of life as they relate to multi-family neighborhoods and affordable housing."

In the midst of escalating land and rental prices, the council also is expected to consider measures that will make it easier to build affordable housing.

The measures include hiking the fees developers must pay if they choose not to construct the required 30 percent low and moderate-income units on site. Staff is recommending that the council increase the current base fee of $7.13 per square foot of floor area for condominiums to $11.01.

The council also will consider revising standards for projects with state density bonus units. Current parking and building envelope standards limit the number of affordable units that can be added to many developments.

The measures come in response to a heated housing market that has spurred the biggest increase in condominium development since 1990.

According to a study conducted for the city by Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler, "sale prices for newly constructed condominiums have increased significantly during the past two years," rising as much as 46 percent in the Mid-City area.

The firm also estimates that land values have increased more than 20 percent since 1997, and construction costs have risen about 15 percent over the last two years.

"Given the robust economy, rising property values and the lifting of the moratorium, staff anticipates that even more building permits could be issued in 2001," the staff report predicts.

Mayor Ken Genser and Councilman Kevin McKeown have requested that the council discuss extending the moratorium.

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