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Council Gives City OK to Begin Negotiations With Hines  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

August 25, 2011 – Once again, crowds gathered to voice their concerns at City Hall, as Texas developer Hines tried – this time successfully – to get the City Council's go-ahead for its project's next step.

The council voted six-to-one to let city staff begin negotiations with Hines for a Development Agreement (DA), one of a number of steps required by the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) before the developer can build it's 766,000 square foot Bergamot Transit Village Center on the site of the old Papermate factory on Olympic Boulevard.

“We are not approving the project tonight,” Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis said, in response to concerns about the project's impact on the surrounding area. “This council is not afraid to say no if it's not done right.”

In fact, the council did say no in March, when at a similar “float-up” deliberation, it sent Hines back to the drawing board because the design of the complex planned to be the “gateway” to Santa Monica across the street from a future Expo Line station was so unpopular.

In response, Hines reduced the FAR – the ratio of the total square footage to the area of the site – from 3.08 to 2.47, added an extra street and open spaces to the site drawings and changed the design and configuration of the buildings.

But among the more than 50 members of the public who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, traffic was still an unresolved issue.

Even the councilmembers who approved going ahead with the development process allowed as how this project can't help but increase traffic in the area.

“We know this site has to be redeveloped,” said Davis. “There's going to be more traffic...Can we blunt the increase?”

As far as Councilmember Kevin McKeown was concerned, there was no way to know that with the information the council had at hand.

“We don't even know if this proposal is possible in terms of its impacts being mitigated, and I don't think we can until we've seen that draft EIR,” he said, referring the environmental impact report which will have to be prepared before the council can cast its final vote on the proposal's DA.

McKeown said he wanted to see the draft EIR – which will give the council more detail on traffic impacts – before going further. Also, he said the council needs to see the area master plan, funded by a HUD grant and due to be completed next summer; a list of community benefits generated at community meetings; and a financial analysis of the project.

“My point tonight is that we don't know what we're doing. I don't think we can possibly know what we're doing,” he said.

Former Mayor Denny Zane seemed to feel similarly. He reflected on the decisions reached by the council in the 1980's that led to the approval of the Water Gardens project – now seen by some as an eyesore and a source of clogged boulevards – across the street from the proposed Hines site.

“Councilmembers regretted that afterwards...they told me so,” said Zane. “I seek you to not make those same mistakes and have those same regrets.”

But other councilmembers were more sanguine, to a large extent, they said, because they were at an early stage in a very public review process.

“We're not talking about building buildings with this vote,” said Councilmember Terry O'Day. “We're talking about opening discussions to build buildings someday down the road.

“We've got to have the discussion about a real project in order to have a real analysis about a real project,” O'Day said.

The council passed a motion for staff to initiate negotiations with Hines for a Development Agreement (DA) by a vote of six to one, with the dissenting vote cast by McKeown.

The project's draft EIR is scheduled to be ready for a 45-day review by the end of this year, Acting Planning Director David Martin told the council. Once the EIR gets final approval, the Planning Commission and council hearings on the DA may take place in late winter or spring, he said.

The area plan is scheduled to be completed by next summer, but Martin said that enough of it would be done by spring to “inform” the council deliberations on the Hines project.


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