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Commission Views Proposed Pico Condos

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

November 22 -- In a step that will further gentrify Santa Monica's poorest neighborhood, the Planning Commission indicated last week that it would likely approve, after modifications, a complex of spacious condominiums in the heart of the Pico Neighborhood.

The commissioners last Wednesday made no decision about the Virginia Avenue project but did direct its architect to work with City staff on tweaking its design and size, indications that the commissioners would eventually approve the project in some form.

Unless the design is altered drastically, the townhouse-style condos will be roomy compared to the modest houses and apartments that dominate the surrounding neighborhood.

The current proposal calls for the vacant house at 2121 Virginia Avenue to be demolished to make way for 12 condos of between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet each. The two- and three-bedroom condos would have two floors, basements and 200-plus-square-foot decks.

The commissioners said they believed the condos would mesh with their surroundings as proposed, but a majority said they would like the project to be scaled back so it would create less traffic and smaller shadows on neighbors' lawns.

"It isn't even the height for me," Commissioner Julie Dad said. "There is a mix on that street, although there are mostly single story."

Dad said her main concern was traffic.

"It's a section that is already overly impacted by traffic," she said. "That's why I think it is really important for us to have as few a number of units as is feasible, because that cuts back on the number of car trips. Yes, it might only be five less car trips or fifteen less. But that's important."

A project that adds even one new car trip to the street would create what traffic analysts call a significant impact that cannot be mitigated, said Planning Director Suzanne Frick.

The majority of commissioners favored scaling back the project to reduce traffic and shadowing, but Commissioners Terry O'Day and Gwynne Pugh voiced strong objections to requiring PLUS Architects to scale back its design.

Pugh, one of two architects on the board, said it would be "onerous and punitive" to force the applicant to downsize the project, noting that it meets zoning requirements as proposed.

"I think that people who have properties should be able to have a reasonable reliance on the codes and zoning that we have," he said. "Just because we have the opportunity to beat something to the ground doesn't mean we should."

Two residents of the Pico Neighborhood, which has seen a hike in real estate prices and an influx of fancier buildings in recent years despite continued poverty and crime, voiced support for the condos.

They did say, when asked by Commissioner Arlene Hopkins, that they might prefer a smaller project.

"Most of the neighbors support the project as an improvement, realizing the alternatives," said Clyde Smith, who added that he had polled his neighbors before the meeting. "Most of the neighbors regret the traffic that will be added as a result of the project."

The commission voted 6 to 0 to continue the item until architect Shahab Ghods could work with staff to address traffic and shadowing concerns by downsizing and rearranging the design.
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