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Council Paves Way for New Uses to Revitalize Promenade
By Jorge Casuso
October 4 , 2021 -- Hard hit by a coronavirus shutdown that cut sales and foot traffic in half, the Third Street Promenade is poised to expand its offerings after the City Council last week unanimously approved immediate zoning changes.
The changes will allow more varied new business uses -- including childcare, pet stores, lodgings, medical and dental offices and other personal services -- and allow existing businesses on the world-renown walk street more flexibility.
“In these three blocks, we can creatively adapt both the retail and public spaces for new uses, tenants, and experiences that are a magnet for our local residents and a draw for the region as well,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich.
"We aren't talking about just refreshing the Promenade, we're doing a whole new vision of it," Himmelrich said.
The plan is expected to help reshape the popular walk street that was hard hit by high-tech shopping trends before the coronavirus emergency shut down or crippled most of the businesses.
In Fiscal year 2020-21, total taxable sales dropped by 55 percent -- from $1.21 billion in Fiscal Year 2018-19 to $688 million, according to Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.'s annual report released Wednesday.
Foot traffic took a similar nosedive -- from 29 million total impressions in Fiscal year 2018-19 to less than 16 million.
The zoning changes approved by the Council last Tuesday will enable a more flexible use of private spaces by eliminating regulations that limit them to the traditional retail, dining and office model, Downtown officials said.
"This is in an effort to create a modern and equitable downtown inclusive of experiential retail, live entertainment, nightlife, cultural offerings, small-scale manufacturing, housing, office space and more," officials said.
But City and Downtown officials note that it is the property owners who will ultimately decide whether to adopt the kinds of uses the changes encourage.
The immediate zoning changes -- which will apply through December 2022 -- provide "a trial period where we put things out there and see how they go," said David Martin, the City's director of Community Development.
The Council will then consider a permanent zoning ordinance, Martin said.
The immediate changes are part of the Third Street Promenade Stabilization and Economic Vitality Plan (“Vitality Plan”), a collaboration between DTSM, Inc., property owners and the City.
Adding new land uses for all three blocks of the Promenade, "including those appropriate for Promenade facades, alley facades, and upper floors;"
Streamlining permitting of existing land uses by minimizing the need for discretionary approvals, including Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) and Minor Use Permits (MUPs);
Reducing the minimum requirement for active ground floor use from 50 feet to 25 feet from the Promenade property line;
Permiting direct access to upper floors and rear ground floor office uses from the Promenade, and
Exempting primarily open-air rooftop uses from Floor Area Ratio (FAR) calculations.
In addition to the zoning and policy changes, the Council also directed staff to make public safety and cleanliness top priorities.
The move comes after mounting complaints from property owners and residents about an increase in anti-social and criminal behavior by homeless individuals.
As part of the direction, staff will explore increasing foot patrols after Downtown officials introduced health ambassadors during the coronavirus emergency.
Kathleen Rawson, who has led DTSM, Inc. for two decades, told the Council it is important to always keep an eye on the future.
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