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Staff Recommends Planning Commission Nix Proposed Market Rate SROs
By Jorge Casuso
April 29, 2019 -- The Planning Commission on Wednesday is expected to deny six Downtown projects totaling 361 units that fail to comply with recent interim ordinances barring market-rate “micro units” in Santa Monica.
The Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units, which range from 220 to 373 square feet, are clustered on 5th, 6th and 7th streets between Colorado and Arizona avenues, according to the staff report.
All six projects -- four of which have around 40 units, while the other two have 96 and 102 units -- are on the consent calendar seeking approval of a Vesting Tentative Tract Map "for merger and airspace subdivision purposes."
However, although the projects require administrative approval, they are inconsistent with the regulations and standards set by an Urgency Interim Zoning Ordinance approved by the City Council on March 26 "prior to the application being deemed complete," staff said.
That ordinance only exempts 100 percent affordable housing projects or "certain specialized housing uses such as emergency shelters, transitional housing and supportive housing citywide."
Only 5 percent of the units in each of the proposed projects are affordable, according to staff.
In addition, the proposed Vesting Tract Maps for the projects fail to comply with the development standards for market rate SRO uses under an Emergency Interim Zoning Ordinance adopted by the Council on April 23.
Under that ordinance, the units -- which must be between 220 and 375 square feet -- must provide a separate bathroom and a kitchen sink, cooking appliance and refrigeration facilities with a clear working space of at least 30 inches in front.
The projects also must meet enhanced common area requirements that have not been incorporated into the plans, staff said.
The six projects were the subject of the interim ordinances after planning officials found a loophole in the 2017 Downtown Community Plan ("Santa Monica Set to Ban Market Rate 'Micro Units,'" March 22, 2019).
In a report to the Council last month, Planning staff cited the projects as an instance where the plan's carrot-and-stick approach may not be working ("Development Plan for Downtown Santa Monica Spurring Housing, Report Says," April 22, 2019).
The proposed Downtown SROs, staff said, "are an example of how property owners are selecting to not access higher height potential, and instead build by-right projects that avoid many of the Plan’s community benefits requirements."
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