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Comment Period Begins for "The Plaza at Santa Monica" Draft EIR
By Jorge Casuso
December 11, 2018 -- What promises to be a heated debate over a proposed mixed-use development on City owned-land Downtown formally kicked off last week with the release of the draft EIR.
Plans for the Plaza at Santa Monica -- the first of three approximately 130 foot-tall Downtown developments to enter the planning pipeline -- has been opposed by slow-growth activists who are eyeing the prime site for a public park.
The draft EIR examines the developer's plans to replace surface parking lots and two bank buildings at 4th/5th Street and Arizona Avenue with a 357,000-square-foot mixed-use development up to 129 feet tall, one foot below the maximum allowed height for the site.
The project -- designed by world-renowned architect Ram Koolhaas -- consists of "a series of interconnecting bars" that step back from a "grand plaza" at 5th and Arizona.
The plaza would take up most of the proposed 41,557 square feet of public open space that includes pocket parks and a park on the second level.
The structure includes a 154,000-square-foot luxury hotel with 240 rooms, 106,800 square feet of creative office space and 41,300 square feet of restaurant and retail space.
It also includes a 1,700-square-foot bicycle center with lockers and showers and two options to provide affordable housing.
Under the first option, the developer -- DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners and Clarett West Development -- would build as many as 48 affordable housing units on-site comprising approximately 40,300 square feet.
Under thee second option, the developer would provide money to build as many as 130 affordable housing units within the Downtown. The square-footage taken up by the on-site housing would be replaced with a gym.
The project has been scaled down from the original 420,000-square-foot project proposed in 2015, which included some 200,000 square feet of commercial space ("Plaza at Santa Monica' Project Scaled Back," February 8, 2017).
But slow-growth activists continued to oppose the project, pushing instead for a public park on the 2.73-acre site.
The draft EIR includes two alternatives that feature a public park.
The first alternative is for a full-fledged park that would include "a landscaped plaza, planter areas, planted and landscaped walkways and an expansive lawn." The alternative does not include public parking.
The other alternative featuring a public park would include limited restaurant and retail uses, along with 100,800 square feet of public open space.
Two other alternatives explored in the EIR would triple the amount of open space to 122,000 square feet. One would eliminate the office space and include 412 hotel rooms, while the other would lower the height of the project to 84 feet and reduce the number of hotel rooms to 105.
Other alternatives include building a mostly residential project with 330 units, including 83 that are affordable, and leaving the project site as is.
Unlike the proposed redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel or the proposed mixed-use development on Ocean Avenue designed by Frank Gehry, The Plaza at Santa Monica would sit on publicly owned land, spurring calls that the site be reserved for public use.
After the scaled-back plan was unveiled in February 2017, the Recreation and Parks Commission voted unanimously in June to recommend a public park, joining the chorus of slow-growth activists and members of neighborhood groups.
Commission Chair John Cyrus Smith called the choice between the proposed project and a public park "a legacy moment for our city” and an "opportunity that won't come again.” ("Recreation and Parks Commission Calls for Downtown Park on Proposed 'Plaza at Santa Monica,' Site," June 20, 2017.
Proponents of The Plaza at Santa Monica note that the project includes public open space and would sit four block from Palisades Park.
The draft EIR comment period -- which will be 60 days instead of the 45 days required by State environmental guidelines -- ends at 5:30 p.m. February 4.
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