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Council Moves Town Square Park Forward  

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 27, 2011 -- Santa Monica's Town Square park will finally move forward after the City Council voted to uphold an appeal by city staff Tuesday to rescind conditions put on the design by the Landmarks Commission.

In September, the commission told landscape architect James Corner he would have to keep the original brickwork and planters in front of City Hall, which faces the future park.

But City staff told the council that keeping the original planter would prevent Corner from extending handicap-accessible ramps and getting rid of their handrails, and that the brickwork would be incongruous with his design.

Councilmember Pam O'Connor, who made the motion to accept staff's appeal, said “You need to make a case as to the significance: why [these features] are important.”

“The mere existence of something being over 50 years old is not enough to qualify it as historic,” said O'Connor. One of the Landmarks Commission's arguments was that the brickwork was a character-defining aspect of the city hall design and therefore should not be altered.

O'Connor celebrated Corner's plan to put seating walls on the lawn, which she said would encourage people to use it much more frequently as a public space and would accommodate people who may want to attend to political rallies but may not be able to stand for hours on end.

Corner presented a design to the council modified slightly from the one presented to the Landmarks Commission that was sensitive to their two conditions but did not follow them literally.

Instead of keeping the original planter, Corner's new design put new planters in front two low-grade handicap-accessible ramps on both sides of the entrance. The new design removed the brickwork and replaced it with the concrete being used in the rest of the project, but the concrete was scored to evoke the original brickwork.

Two other conditions imposed by the commission – removal of some of the trees and taking out some of the special grasses on the lawn – were incorporated into the new plan.

“The last time this came to us, we turned to Mr. Corner and said, 'Please come back with something more bold.' And I think you did," Councilmember Kevin McKeown said. He singled out the undulating lawn as a “bold” feature of the new design.

But he was uncomfortable with the plan's removal of the juniper trees – an idea that was expressed several times over in public comment.

Corner explained that maintaining the symmetry with the ramps would require the removal of the trees.

Landmarks Commissioner Ruthann Lehrer spoke on behalf of the commission Tuesday.

“In the end, the process we've gone through has resulted in a much better project,” Lehrer said, defending the conditions set by the commission as ultimately helpful in the creative process of the design.

But she added that the commission did not have time at its September meeting to address all the issues and asked that the council refer the matter back to them for further discussion.

Commissioner Margaret Bach questioned the plan to make the lawn undulating, rather than flat.

The Council voted unanimously to approve the staff's appeal and accept the newest design, with McKeown expressing “reservation.”

By accepting the appeal, the Council also approved the certificate of appropriateness for the project, which means that it can now move forward, ending a back-and-forth between the City Council and Landmarks Commission with Corner stuck in the middle that started back in May.

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