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Norms Replacement Project Gets Santa Monica Planning Commission Nod

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

September 18, 2015 -- Although some members called for changes to the proposal, the majority of the Santa Monica Planning Commission on Wednesday endorsed a 78,000-square-foot mixed-use proposal for the former Norms Restaurant site on Lincoln Boulevard off Colorado Avenue.

The project, which is part of a development agreement that features various public benefit offers from the developer, will go to the City Council for approval. The Architectural Review Board must give the final thumbs up before permits can be issued.

“This project fits into the overall strategy for the area of being close to a light rail terminus and a lot of housing with neighborhood-serving retail on the ground floor,” Commissioner Jason Parry said.

The proposal calls for a five-story, 57-foot building featuring 90 residential units, 10,000 square feet of ground commercial space and a subterranean garage with 168 spaces.

One contentious issue about the project is that there was no extensive environmental review, including a traffic study, because it is small enough to be exempt from high-level scrutiny based on the California Environmental Quality Act.

The property owner Fifield Co. also owns three adjacent properties with possible plans to develop them. A project featuring all four properties would have triggered the need for an environmental impact report.

“It gives me some concern when you are isolating one property when there are four in play,” Planning Commission Chair Richard McKinnon said.

Fifield attorney Dave Rand told McKinnon that no master plan had been created for developing all four properties, and his client was waiting to see what happened with this project before proceeding with plans on the other sites.

Rand added that “design considerations and thought” had been put into developing an adjacent property, including how it would relate to the Norms site.

“The best hope for the future of Lincoln Boulevard is to see this Norms project approved, which is a great stand-alone project in and of itself, that will force the adjacent project to relate to it in the way that does create good, solid planning on Lincoln Boulevard, and see what happens in the future,” Rand said.

Commissioners made a list of recommendations to the City Council, including that the amount of solar paneling be expanded to cover half the roof, the number of electric vehicle spaces increased, more accessible bike storage and various design adjustments.

Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi wanted the building reduced by a story, but was unable to get enough support. He was the only commissioner who voted against the recommendation for City Council approval.

A separate vote of 5-2 (Parry and Amy Anderson opposed) was made to recommend the number of deed-restricted affordable units be increased from 18 to 19. The affordable units are part of the public benefits package.

“While I support affordable housing like lots of people do, it doesn’t make any sense in this context.” Parry said

Anderson said the developer was already offering a significant amount of public benefits.

“I think the package of community benefits is frankly mind-blowing,” she said. “I’m stunned when I read through what is going to be contributed to this community.”

The other public benefits include Fifield paying the City more than $2 million for municipal programs, including transportation, parks and recreation, affordable housing, sustainability, early childhood initiatives and historic preservation.

This project site is located across the street from Denny’s. A mixed-use project on the Denny's property calling for 100 units and 14,000 square feet of commercial space received the commission’s blessing in July. It is expected to go before the City Council soon.

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