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  SMRR to Council: Reject Mall Redevelopment

By Jorge Casuso

January 14 -- For the first time in nearly two decades, the City's powerful tenants group has taken a position on a specific development project, recommending Thursday that the City Council shoot down an ambitious plan to redevlop Santa Monica Place.

In a letter to the council, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) said the plan, which includes adding three 21-story towers atop the rebuilt shopping mall, "is out of step with the values of the Santa Monica community and should be rejected."

"The project as proposed represents a dramatic and unacceptable intensification of development and congestion in our downtown," SMRR said in the letter, which was signed by Chair Denny Zane.

"The proposed building heights are excessive and the potential increase in traffic that would be generated by this project are unacceptable," the letter said.

Unanimously approved by the SMRR steering committee at its meeting Saturday, the letter asks the council to use as the starting point for negotiations the existing zoning, which limits heights to 56 feet, and not the plan, which reaches a height of 300 feet.

"The proposed project should not be treated as the point of departure for subsequent discussions," SMRR wrote. "Rather, existing development standards in the downtown area should be treated as the point of departure for discussions regarding the site as is appropriate for all proposed new development in the downtown, or anywhere else in the city."

The plan unveilved in November by the Macerich Company, owners of the struggling indoor shopping mall, also calls for a rental complex and an office building of seven stories each, and restaurants and park space atop two floors of retail.

The plan -- which follows council direction to include as many as 450 housing units and 100,000 square-feet of office space -- also stretches the Third Street Promenade to Colorado, a key goal of City officials.

The benefits, however, do not outweigh the project's problematic scale, the letter said.

"While opening up Santa Monica Place to an open air extension of the Third Street Promenade seems desirable, it is not a sufficiently important goal to justify such a dramatic intensification of the site," the leter said.

Not since the Water Garden and Arboretum added some one million square feet each to the City's indistrial corridor in the late 1980s has SMRR thrown its weight against a proposed development.

In both cases, SMRR -- which currently holds a 4 to 3 council majority -- was a minority on the council and both projects were approved by 5 to 2 votes. (Former SMRR Mayor James Conn voted for the projects.)

"We rarely do that," said Zane, referring to the group taking a position on an individual project. "SMRR always took the view that we should reduce standads in commercial zones, that we couldn't spend all our time dealing with individual projects.

"This project was of greater significance both because of its scale and the circumstances under which it arose," Zane said. "It's not only dramatic intensification, it's not in line with existing standards. We regard it as a big deal."
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