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Construction of Controversial Apartment Building on Santa Monica Hillside Goes to Planning Commission

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 17, 2015 -- Construction of a controversial ten-unit apartment complex on a vacant hillside in Santa Monica goes before the Planning Commission next Wednesday -- and though it might be the final vote, neighborhood opponents say they aren’t finished.

Wednesday’s hearing comes after two neighborhood residents filed an appeal of an earlier approval by the Architectural Review Board of the project bounded by Lincoln Boulevard and Ashland Avenue.
(“Apartment Project Opponents Frustrated by Santa Monica Planning Process,” January 26, 2015)

“It’s not over yet,” said Rachel Kelley, who with her husband filed the appeal with the blessings of neighboring residents. “I am still doing all I can.”

If approved by the Planning Commission, the project would be built on what is now a steep, vacant lot between 2919 Lincoln Blvd. and 802 Ashland.  It is on the city Planning Commission’s agenda Wednesday with the staff recommending approval.

The staff report on the project finds the proposed development “expressive of good taste, good design and in general contributes to the image of Santa Monica as a place of beauty, creativity and individuality.”

It also finds that “the placement, massing, design, scale, proportion and materials of the two-story apartment project are compatible with the scale of developments in the surrounding area.”

Neighbors, many of them from the small, older bungalows that surround the proposed project, contend it shoehorns too much into an area that, under different circumstances would only be allowed to house four apartment units.

The reason many more units than that are allowed – and the reason the issue doesn’t need to go to the City Council – is that the proposal is a “preferred permitted” project, a designation adopted by the City to provide incentive to developers to build family-sized apartments.

Such projects need only administrative approval, said David Martin, the director of planning and community development.

He said the ARB was tasked with studying the project regarding esthetic issues, like design, colors and landscaping – not other issues, such as congestion, that neighbors complained about. The ARB’s action is what the Planning Commission will consider, he said.

He also said the Planning Commission will need to act within the ARB’s limited purview.

To qualify as preferred permitted, the project is required to include 25 percent units that are three-bedrooms or larger and 60 percent that are two bedrooms or larger.

The project itself consists of three three-bedroom units (one earmarked as affordable housing), five two-bedroom units and two studio apartments.

All along, the residents say they have been stymied by the preferred permitted designation. City planners say the builders have met with all requirements as part of that designation.

Neighbors have been protesting the construction since they first learned of it more than a year ago.

They worry about the impact of traffic on Ashland and argue that the roadway/walkway on it leading to the project is too narrow to be safe.

Aside from that, they say the city should order environmental studies both because of traffic in the area and because of abandoned asbestos tiles there from a previous project.

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