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Planning Panel Backs Downtown Santa Monica Mixed-Use Project

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
Staff Writer

July 27, 2015 -- The Planning Commission on Wednesday voted 4-1 to recommend the City Council approve a 52,000-square-foot mixed-use development on 5th Street between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway but suggested some minor changes be made to the project.

The proposal calls for a six-story, 84-foot-tall building with 64 residential units (13 studios, 31 one-bedrooms, 13 two-bedrooms and seven three-bedrooms), 6,345 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and a three-level subterranean parking garage with 105 spaces.

“The ground floor is comprised of expansive glazing for the commercial tenant spaces with a large cut out at the ground floor of the building for outdoor dining,” Planning Manager Amanda Schachter wrote in a report to the Commission. “The upper floors feature glazing on the balconies for the residential units and a large center cut out for a residential open space deck and look-out over 5th Street.

“The building’s side facades feature undulating wall expressions and windows for units to achieve cross ventilation,” she said. “The rear alley elevation also features balconies and windows.”

Prior to voting in favor of the project, Commission Vice Chair Richard McKinnon called the building “a significant piece of architecture” that “does the things the City Council has asked us to do, which is to put housing in the center of our city, to create a lot of affordability, to look at sustainability, to put it close to the train station.”

Because the building exceeds the height limit for downtown structures, developer NMS Properties must go into a development agreement with the City. This requires NMS to offer so-called public benefits.

Among the benefits being offered following negotiations between City staff and NMS is a requirement that 13 of the units be affordable for lower-income residents. The commission proposed that this amount be increased by at least one.

Other public benefits include preference for disabled tenants in at least half the affordable units; nearly $600,000 for various City programs, including transportation, parks and recreation, early childhood initiatives and historic preservation; a local hiring program and various environmental concessions.

The lone opposition vote came from Mario Fonda-Bonardi, who like Nina Fresco was attending his first meeting as a planning commissioner.

Saying he was “after a low-rise city,” Fonda-Bonardi wanted the building lowered by 10 feet. Getting no support from his colleagues, he then asked for a four-foot reduction, but that too failed to gain support.

There were three public speakers, one who favored the project and two who did not. The harshest comments came from slow-growth activist Ellen Brennan.

“NMS builds the ugliest buildings in this town,” she said. “They are sterile, ugly, depressing to look at. Every place they’ve been built in this city, they just got uglier. Now they want to build a larger ugly building.”

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