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Bayside Board Gives Nod to New Downtown Hotel

By Jorge Casuso

August 31, 2009 --The Bayside District Board last week gave the nod to a controversial 240-room hotel, saying it will pump life into the outskirts of Downtown Santa Monica.

Acknowledging the proposed development at the corner of 7th and Wilshire would likely morph before it reaches the City Council more than a year from now, the board voted almost unanimously Thursday to support the general concept and recommend council approval.

"The idea of a hotel at that end of our district is really great," said Board Vice chair John Warfel. "It's great for Wilshire Boulevard. Wilshire dies there. I like the fact that something that important is happening."

"I think it's a great place for a hotel," said Board member Patricia Hoffman.

Sitting across 7th Street from a 7-Eleven and across Wilshire from Reed Park, the current seven-story landmark building at 710 Wilshire Boulevrad that would anchor the hotel is home to a miscellany of small businesses.

The proposal by Maxser and Company, which owns the affordably priced Jolly Roger Hotel in Venice, would turn the white landmark into a 44-room hotel with a 3,877 square-foot conference center and approximately 7,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

The proposal also calls for building a new eight-story hotel building with 240 guest rooms, approximately 4,100 square feet of ground floor retail space, approximately 14,700 square feet of food market space, and 16 multi-family rental units.

The hotel would have 15 surface parking spaces and 445 parking spaces in a four-level subterranean parking garage.

The proposal -- which was narrowly approved 4 to 3 by the Planning Commission in June -- has drawn the ire of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition, which represents area residents.

Neighborhood leaders said they were led to believe the landmark building would be revamped as a "boutique hotel" that would have minimal impact on the neighborhood.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) -- which sponsored a failed initiative last November to limit most commercial development to 75,000 square feet a year -- has latched onto the proposed project and could use it to rally its troops in the 2010 council race.

"This project would be one of the largest hotels in Santa Monica with significant, irreversible neighborhood impacts," Coalition leaders wrote in a letter to the Planning Commission.

"We are confident that when residents throughout Santa Monica are informed of all of the facts that they will vigorously oppose this project as too massive for the neighborhood."

The proposed project would require a development agreement, which allows the City to negotiate for "community benefits" from the developer, Chris Harding, a land use attorney representing Maxser and Company told the Bayside Board.

"This project will evolve over time," Harding said. "In 18 months to two years we could still be here discussing the project."

While the board gave its general approval, it strongly recommended that the "gateway entrance" in the original proposal be restored after staff talked the developer into nixing it.

"There's no sense of arrival," said Board member Johannes Van Tilburg, a local architect. "You drive down into a garage."

Only Board member Todd Flora opposed the project, echoing the concerns of the Wilmont neighborhood group.

"I think it's a great place for a hotel." Board member Patricia Hoffman

"This project would be one of the largest hotels in Santa Monica with significant, irreversible neighborhood impacts." SMCLC

"This project will evolve over time." Chris Harding, land use attorney

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