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Planning Commission Supports Cancer Research Development Project  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

September 8, 2010 -- A development agreement with the cancer drug research company Agensys Inc. for a proposed 153,000-square-foot complex on the east end of Santa Monica received the endorsement of the Planning Commission last week. The recommendation will go before the City Council for a final decision.

A group of bicycle enthusiasts want the proposed Stewart Street development to include a bike path connecting the future Expo Light Rail Station near Bergamot Station with Michigan Avenue. Company officials say this is not possible. The commissioners sided with Agensys, although they said the company should work with the City on developing plans to increase biking opportunities in the neighborhood.

Agensys has been in Santa Monica since its founding in 1997. It operates out of five small facilities scattered throughout the city. This project would move the entire operation —office space, research and development and manufacturing— into one building.

Due to technical real estate issues, Agensys is on a tight timeline to get the project approved. Delays could mean the company would look outside Santa Monica to build the facility. Several public speakers said that would be a terrible conclusion.

“I’m concerned we may be about to lose a very valuable asset to the City of Santa Monica, and that’s this company,” said John Bohn, who was a member of the Planning Commission about 50 years ago. “Let’s not nitpick this to death. This company provides cancer research, the kind of jobs we want here in Santa Monica.”

Former Mayor Nat Trives, a two-time cancer survivor, added, “We cannot afford to allow a company of the stature of Agensys to leave this community. It gives folks like me and others who have survived that terrible c-word, hope.”

Several members of the bicycle advocacy group Santa Monica Spoke told the commissioners that a bike path on the property would be a vital piece of a larger citywide bike route. Agensys attorney Dale Goldsmith said the company would provide this path if it were possible.

“We simply cannot make it fit,” he said. “It’s the proverbial third pound of flour in the two-pound bag. We can’t bring that bike path in without sacrificing critical and key project components … interfere with Agensys’ mission, which is to produce drugs that treat cancers.”

Santa Monica Spoke member Gary Kavanagh wrote in his blog after the hearing that Agensys officials “clearly didn't understand the whole bike thing.” He wrote that bicycle advocates could have influenced the project had they gotten involved earlier.

“Moving forward, we are going to start looking through pending projects to make sure we get our foot in the door right away next time,” Kavanagh wrote. “The redevelopment of the pier bridge, recently declared structurally deficient and will soon be in need of a rebuild, will likely be our next major project to get involved with.”

As part of the proposed development agreement, Agensys has offered to give the City $75,000 for improvements “to and around the (light rail station) to improve its functionality and accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists.” The commission said this amount should be increased or Agensys should work with the City on other ways to enhance local bike riding opportunities.

Other public benefits included in the proposed development agreement are a pedestrian path, pedestrian café, 5,100-square-foot public open space, widened sidewalk along Stewart Street, traffic demand management program, sculpture garden and local hiring and internship programs.


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