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Council Members Seek to Halt Tall Buildings in Downtown Santa Monica

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 31, 2013 -- Three City Council members are seeking a fourth vote for a motion that would place a moratorium on all development in Downtown Santa Monica that exceeds the current height limits.

The moratorium would halt three major hotel developments Downtown that would far exceed the 84-foot height limit imposed in 1984 until the City adopts the Downtown Specific Plan, setting new height limits in the area.

Those three hotels -- ranging from 195 feet to 261 feet -- are being ushered through under a plan that would give the Council discretion over height and density limits at eight “opportunity sites” in the downtown.

“I suggested we put all the downtown opportunity sites on hold, because the heated controversies they've engendered are making it difficult for the Planning Department to engage the public effectively on the Downtown Specific Plan,” Council member Kevin McKeown wrote in an email exhorting residents to lobby fellow council members to support his motion.

Council members Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez agreed to join McKeown in placing the motion on the Council's June 11 agenda.

If passed, it could place on hold the major redevelopment of the Wyndham Hotel, an Ocean Avenue project by renowned architect Frank Gehry and a $225 million overhaul of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel until the City adopts a new Downtown Specific Plan.

Santa Monica's 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element sets height limits for all but 4 percent of the 8.3-square-mile city but leaves height limits in the Downtown and Bergamot Areas to their pending specific plans.

McKeown floated the idea of a moratorium Wednesday during the Council’s second day discussing the City's budget.

“Would it be better, I asked, if we simply set aside any proposed DA downtown that exceeded the 1984 LUCE height limit of 84 feet?” McKeown wrote in his email.

“We could then complete the Downtown Specific Plan without all the distraction, and return to the DA proposals with a better Idea of what the community wants for its downtown.”

McKeown pointed to two public meetings earlier this month as his reason for drafting the motion.

On May 6, the City held a workshop on the Downtown Specific Plan that drew some 300 residents, with many voicing to their concerns that unless the City adopts strict height limits, Santa Monica will be overwhelmed by development.

Ten days later, tensions boiled over at a public meeting where City officials asked residents what they would like to see studied in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Fairmont Miramar redevelopment project at the northwestern edge of Downtown.

Residents stormed out of the meeting, which filled the Main Library's Multi-Purpose Room to capacity, after learning they could not speak generally about the project but would have to direct their comments to specific parts of the project at stations set up around the room.

The Miramar Redevelopment project, which has been a major source of controversy, would replace two buildings with three, including a 21-story tower with as many as 120 condominiums.

Proponents of the opportunity sites have argued they would, in fact, limit development by concentrating it in the eight locations. They contend the developments slated for the would bring architectural diversity and much needed revenue to the City.

At its monthly board meeting last Thguusday, Downtown Santa Monica Inc. gave a tentative thumbs up to the idea of allowing flexibility on the eight sites.

Opponents, however, believe that the sites are “Trojan horses” that will allow developers to turn Santa Monica's skyline into something resembling Miami Beach. Many opponents have argued that tall buildings would bring traffic, block views and ultimately ruin Santa Monica’s beach anbience.

“I'm well aware that the so-called 'opportunity sites' have created a disruptive distraction that will make it difficult for us residents to be effective in deciding what we really want for all of downtown,” McKeown wrote.

“I think this delay, to allow calmer and more thoughtful discussion of the Downtown Specific Plan first, is what the community wants,” he concluded. “If I'm correct, it's up to you to help make sure the item passes on June 11th.”

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