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Small Units and Design Concerns Stall Development at Fourth and Broadway  

As of September 1, 2011, ALL 1,875 retail establishments are prohibited from providing light-weight, single-use plastic carryout bags to customers at the point of sale. MORE

By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

October 24, 2011 -- The Planning Commission sent a proposed downtown residential development back to the drawing board Wednesday because it didn't like the design and thought the apartments were too small.

Rendering of proposed apartment building at 401 Broadway.
Image from City of Santa Monica Staff Report.

The project – a five-story apartment building at Fourth Street and Broadway with 56 studio apartments, including six very low-income units – raised some eyebrows on the commission from those who are concerned with the tendency toward ever-smaller apartments in the downtown area.

The commissioners were also unimpressed with the latest design by David Forbes Hibbert, the developer.

“Across the board, we wanted a better design,” Commissioner Richard McKinnon told The Lookout Friday.

Commissioners singled out the brick facade and columns along the sidewalk.

McKinnon said that because of its development's proximity to the future end of the Expo Line at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue, the design would be seen by thousands of people daily.

Another concern for the Commission was the fact that all the units were all studio apartments.

McKinnon wanted to see 16 of the 375 square foot units converted into eight larger apartments, a suggestion that was seconded by Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy.

Attorney Chris Harding, representing Hibbert, responded that though the city may want to require units of varying size in future developments in order to stem the trend toward small units, this was not the project for it.

Design and apartment size weren't the only points of contention.

The developer and the City have had trouble seeing eye-to-eye about community benefits required for the project.

Currently, the City is asking Hibbert to pay a $175,000 infrastructure fee to develop the Fourth and Broadway property.

The bulk of that sum would go to light rail construction, while $75,000 would be split between funding bike infrastructure and installation of electric vehicle charging units in public parking structures.

Harding argued that the $175,000 was too much compared to other projects. The figure amounts to about $11.00 per square foot, compared to the fee for the Agensys development, which amounted to $0.59 per square foot, as outlined in a letter he wrote to the commission.

“We thought it was extraordinarily out of proportion with the other projects that had been done,” Harding said, adding that it was ultimately up to the discretion of the commission.

“It makes sense to me that the infrastructure fee would be higher for your project since there is no parking and theoretically, your residents are going to be taking the transit and biking,” Commissioner Gerda Newbold responded.

Harding argued also that the City should consider the developer's decision to build the affordable housing on site – rather than paying the in-lieu fee – as a community benefit, because the cost of building the on site affordable units is approximately $1 million more than paying the in-lieu fee.

The public hearing will continue at the Planning Commission's November 17th meeting, before the project goes before the City Council for review in December.

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