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Santa Monica Planning Commission Gives Thumbs Down to Downtown Movie Theater

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

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 24, 2015 -- The reviews are in for the proposed movie theater complex on Fourth Street in Downtown Santa Monica—and they aren’t good.

Planning Commissioners blasted the project as too tall and bulky, among other issues, during a presentation Wednesday night. They also raised questions about its effect on parking, since the complex would replace an existing parking structure and there would be no spaces at the new site.

“I don’t have much positive to say about the design,” Commissioner Jason Parry said. “I don’t think it relates well to what is in the area.

“If you are going to depart from what is happening on the street, you’ve got to make it super special,” Parry said. “You’ve got to really make it exciting and interesting, and what we’re looking at here today is far from that.”

Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy said the proposed structure was “too tall and the mass is too bulky,” while Commissioner Amy Anderson said it was “potentially overwhelming for the street.”

The project, a joint venture between Santa Monica Place owner Macerich and the theater chain ArcLight, calls for a 100,000-square-foot mixed-use development featuring an 84-foot-high, four-story building with up to 16 movie screens and approximately 2,700 seats.

Also included in the proposal is 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail/restaurant space that would be separate from the theater.

The complex is slated for the site of Parking Structure No. 3 on Fourth Street off Arizona Avenue.

The loss of that structure and its 344 spaces combined with no spots being proposed for the complex bothered some commissioners and public speakers, but not Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc.

During her address to the commission, Rawson noted that nearly 400 spaces had recently been added to Parking Structure No. 6 on Second Street.

Also, more than 1,100 spaces are planned for The Plaza at Santa Monica, proposed for a location down the street and currently going through the approval pipeline.

Rawson said it was a good thing for Downtown Santa Monica to have those parking locations a distance from the theater.

“It forces people to walk, so you buy more stuff at Brookstone or anywhere else that you wouldn’t normally need or want because you spend more time being a pedestrian,” she said.

Commissioner Gerda Newbold said she was surprised by Rawson’s response to the parking issue.

“We may have enough spaces [in the area], but people are having trouble getting to them,” Newbold said.

Several commissioners said a height of 56 feet would put the complex more in line with other buildings on the street. Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi said this could be achieved by placing at least some of the theaters underground.

With the project being on City-owned land, Commission Chair Richard McKinnon said the development team needed to meet a higher standard, and it was not close to doing that.

“We sit here looking at what you’re proposing from the outside in, and nobody likes what they see,” McKinnon said. “That’s the problem.”

He added that he was bothered by the development team being what he considered to be “incredibly inflexible,” based on their comments during the session.

“You have dumped a big, square white spaceship in the middle of Santa Monica and said you had better like it or we’re leaving because it’s infeasible to do anything else. I do not accept that.”

The project was before the commission for what is called a float-up session. The City Council will have its float-up session in late September or early October.

There are ongoing negotiations between City staff and the developer on lease terms as well as public benefits that must be offered because the project does not meet local zoning standards.

A draft environmental impact report is expected to be ready by the end of the year. The approval process, which includes a recommendation from the Planning Commission and final OKs from the City Council and Architectural Review Board, would begin sometime after that.

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