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Santa Monica's Much Debated Development Standards Take Effect this Month

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

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

July 1, 2015 -- After sparking dozens of meetings and hundreds of comments, Santa Monica's new zoning standards – which will dictate the height and density of developments for the next two decades – will go into effect this month.

On July 24 the new Zoning Ordinance Update (ZOU) and  Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) -- formally adopted without much debate after a unanimous City Council vote June 23 -- take effect, culminating a three-year process involving at least 33 hearings and more than 500 public comments.

Specifying land use regulations covering what developments will be permitted, permitted conditionally or prohibited within each of 10 different districts in the City, the documents reflect a new reality within a divided Council.

Members fluctuated before settling at last on allowing taller and denser building standards in fewer areas than the Planning Commission had recommended, while completely eliminating whole areas from these “Tier 3” zones.

Eliminated were all but one activity center, where Tier 3 height limits up to 25 feet taller than the City's traditional base limit of 32 feet could be allowed following a review process.

Council members did not accept a recommendation by Planning Commissioners to keep the Lincoln Boulevard and Ocean Avenue activity center overlay proposed near the Expo Rail Line transit corridor as part of the LUCE.

Of five activity centers originally envisioned in the LUCE, only the Memorial Park activity center overlay remains. It allows for such uses as cultural facilities, restaurants and bars, pet stores and groomers, banks, child care facilities and other establishments.

Sites for activity zone overlays were picked for their ability to accommodate new mix-use housing and retail developments that support “community gathering places and a sense of place,” according to the LUCE.

As adopted, the LUCE allows Tier 3 development in a designated mixed-use zone on Colorado Avenue and portions of Broadway, 20th Street, and Cloverfield Boulevard. And while Council members eliminated proposed activity centers along the City's six major thoroughfares -- Wilshire, Ocean Park, Lincoln, Colorado and Broadway -- the LUCE spells out a unique vision for each boulevard.

For Wilshire, the focus of much of the public comments from residents who live on nearby side streets, the LUCE envisions transforming the thoroughfare from a car-dominated street into “a liveable, enhanced pedestrian open space that is well served by transit and includes a local-serving mix of uses.”

Auto dealers now operating on Wilshire will remain and could apply to expand, but new dealerships will be discouraged as the City seeks to rework Wilshire into an attractive combination of  “market-rate affordable housing units” on upper floors of buildings and offices, retail and other uses on street-facing floors, with plenty of pedestrian-friendly spaces and things for people to do.

Uniformly flat roofs would be discouraged “in order to create an interesting skyline,” the LUCE said.

The document also promises to conserve the “low-density” character of the residential neighborhoods along Colorado east of 26th Street, while the south side of the boulevard between Stanford and Stewart streets “will transition to a mixed-use pattern over time.”

“The Expo Light Rail which transitions to Colorado from a dedicated right-of-way just east of 17th Street presents a special opportunity to enliven and improve” the avenue, said the LUCE.

It added that the City's goal is to develop Colorado “as the light rail artery from the Memorial Park Station at 17th Street to Downtown while enhancing the street along the way to create a safe and appealing pedestrian experience.”

Reimagining Lincoln Boulevard, the LUCE envisions enhancing the boulevard's streetscape to “link the Sunset Park and Ocean Park neighborhoods with an active pedestrian environment, while maintaining its role as a functional regional roadway.”

In general, Lincoln's retail stretches could use improvement, according to the LUCE.

“Lincoln Boulevard is visually cluttered, unattractive and devoid of coordinated streetscape or landscaping,” said the planning document.

Overall, the impression is of a mismatch of auto-related shops and stores that present the “general pattern” of “strip commercial and drive-in facilities.”

The City's goal for Lincoln is to “create a vibrant shopping and gathering place” at Lincoln and Pico boulevards that capitalizes on the high frequency of available transit service,” said the LUCE.

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