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By Jorge Casuso
October 12, 2022 -- It took a two-and-a-half-year-long pandemic for Santa Monica to permanently ease zoning restrictions that have long frustrated businesses seeking a change of use.
The two Interim Zoning Ordinances permanently enacted by the City Council on Tuesday were meant to help small, local businesses weather the health emergency declared in March 2020.
The zoning changes, according to City staff, "focused on relaxing land use barriers that had been shown to create unnecessarily difficult review processes for simple changes of use."
These "barriers" resulted in "often inhibiting or delaying the establishment of common neighborhood-serving uses," staff wrote in a report to the Council.
The interim changes adopted in May 2020 -- which were set to expire at the end of the year -- "have provided much-needed support and flexibility" to restaurant, retail, personal service, and fitness businesses, City officials said.
"As permanently adopted, these zoning changes will provide greater certainty and predictability for property owners and their existing tenants, along with prospective businesses considering locating in Santa Monica," officials said.
The permanent changes affect existing businesses in the area around the Third Street Promenade and in the city's major commercial districts.
Citywide changes allow restaurants of up to 5,000 square feet to be permitted by-right and add multi-tenant Food Halls as conditionally permitted uses.
They also remove the cap on the number of restaurants and seats per block on Main Street.
The changes also remove restrictions on television screens and video projectors.
In addition, the citywide changes exclude all outdoor dining areas from parking calculations for changes of use and base the calculations only on public dining areas.
They also redefine “physical training” to remove the cap on the number of students in each studio or gym class, which lowers the parking requirement to match other commercial uses.
In addition, the changes require a Parking and Loading Operations Plan instead of an on-site loading space where a change of use of up to 5,000 square feet is proposed.
Zoning changes approved for the Promenade remove the restriction on converting eating and drinking establishments to another use on the ground floor.
They also add light industry and multi-tenant food halls with up to 175 seats as permitted uses.
In addition, the changes allow for more flexible size requirements for active commercial uses on the ground floor and in unenclosed open-air rooftops.
In addition to the zoning changes related to alcohol sales citywide, establishments on the Promenade can offer entertainment.
The entire Downtown area, except along Ocean Avenue, will not require a Parking and Loading Operations Plan instead of an on-site loading space for new buildings and additions, was well as for enlargements and changes of use.
"The Third Street Promenade changes support the goals of creating a more vibrant experience through increased opportunities for nightlife, entertainment, and flexibility to experiment with different uses," City officials said.
Zoning changes made during the health emergency also will be made permanent on the Santa Monica Pier.
Alcohol exemption criteria and conditions were expanded to include bars/nightclubs/lounges, food halls and general retail sales with expanded operating hours of 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
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