Santa Monica Lookout
B e s t   l o c a l   s o u r c e   f o r   n e w s   a n d   i n f o r m a t i o n

Planning Commission Continues Marathon Discussion of Downtown Santa Monica Plan

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

July 19, 2013 -- The Planning Commission failed Wednesday to reach a consensus on height limits in Santa Monica's Downtown Specific Plan despite nearly seven hours of public comment and deliberation.

After four hours of testimony from residents and three failed motions, the Commission voted to continue the item to its August 7 meeting when it will continue discussing what height and density limits should be studied in a California Environmental Quality Act-mandated (CEQA) environmental impact report (EIR) of the nascent Specific Plan.

The Commission, which had dwindled from seven members to five by the time it voted, was largely divided over what to do about eight pieces of prime real estate -- “opportunity” sites -- where staff has recommended studying the possibility of allowing buildings up to 120 to 135 feet tall.

“Everybody's very interested in this,” said Commissioner Sue Himmelrich, whose motion Wednesday night called for staff to only study taller height limits at the three City-owned opportunity sites.

Himmelrich and Commissioner Richard McKinnon were both suspicious of studying the possibility of tall buildings along Ocean Avenue where three opportunity sites are situated on private property.

Three major hotel projects are proposed on the Ocean Avenue sites with towers ranging from 195 feet to about 300 feet tall.

Himmelrich said the taller buildings should be restricted to the sites near the future terminus of the Expo Light Rail at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue. “If we're going to go high, it should be near the station and not on Ocean Avenue,” she said.

Himmelrich presented her motion after Commissioner Amy Anderson's motion that staff study a 200-foot height limit at the opportunity sites failed to get traction.

Proponents of studying higher limits have argued that it would allow the Council to have more information when deciding to set the actual height limits.

“The Commission had a lot of questions about process and how this (discussion) fit in the process of the Downtown Santa Monica Specific Plan,” said Strategic and Transportation Manager Francie Stefan.

“It's a tough decision, and I think because of some of the confusion... the pressure was high to come up with that number,” she said, referring to the height limits.

Chair Gerda Newbold was concerned that studying higher limits would mean “opening the door” for developers.

City officials pointed out, however, that the Planning Commission's recommendation would only be for theoretical heights to be studied under CEQA and would not commit the Council to adopting those heights as upward limits in the final plan.

“The CEQA tail should not wag the policy dog,” said Chief Deputy City Attorney Alan Seltzer.

Planning Director David Martin said, “Even if you study it in the EIR doesn't mean that's what you would recommend to be in the plan and what the Council would adopt in the Plan.”

While the limits studied do not set policy, the Council wouldn't be able to adopt height limits greater than those studied without going through another EIR process.

At its June 9 meeting, the Council postponed its decision to set the EIR parameters in order to give the Planning Commission a chance to weigh-in on the process.

The Council will deliberate the matter again on August 13, less than a week after the Planning Commission makes its recommendation.

Lookout Logo footer image copyrightCopyright 1999-2013 All Rights Reserved. EMAIL