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Santa Monica Residents Want to Talk About Height

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

July 12, 2013 -- Residents concerned that their voices aren't being heard in an increasingly contentious debate over height in Downtown Santa Monica have signed on to a petition calling for the City Council to study higher limits at specific sites.

The petition, which has gotten 125 signatories in under three weeks, was put out as the battle over whether or not developers should able to build towers in specific locations throughout the bayside city's downtown comes to a fever pitch.

“I am a Santa Monica resident and I support the consideration of additional height and density on a limited number of sites in Downtown Santa Monica in exchange for substantial community benefits,” the petition reads.

Scott Schonfeld, author of the petition, said that it is meant to counter the belief that all residents oppose height in Santa Monica, an idea repeatedly espoused by opponents of development.

Recently, the Wilmont Neighborhood Coalition put out a resident survey, ahead of one sponsored by City Hall, which it says shows resident opposition to development ("Santa Monica Neighborhood Group Conducts Height Survey," July 11)

“There are some people who think that the conversation about height and density on a certain number of sites is dominated by a group of people who is angry about all new development,” said Schonfeld, a managing partner with Centennial Real Estate Company.

Centennial Real Estate owns an office building on one of eight parcels downtown -- known as “opportunity sites” -- identified in the Downtown Specific Plan as parcels where developers could theoretically build taller and more dense buildings in exchange for more community benefits.

Schonfeld began circulating the petition because, “a lot of people in the community really want to have the opportunity to discuss these issues as they relate to community benefits on a project-by-project basis.”

He emphasized that the petition does not endorse a particular project, but rather calls for the Council to study a broad range of options when it votes to go forward with a State-mandated environmental impact report (EIR) of the Downtown Specific Plan at its August 13 meeting. ("Santa Monica Council Postpones Height Limit Decision," July 11)

If the study precludes tall buildings, though it wouldn't necessarily prevent developers from trying to build up, it would add costly and time-consuming barriers to such plans and it would limit the Council in their final determination of height limits downtown.

The petition's signatories run the gamut from many of Santa Monica's leading architects, such as former Planning Commissioners Hank Koning and Gwynne Pugh, to bicycle activists Cynthia Rose, Barbara Filet and Kent Strumpell, to rank-and-file residents.

“A diversity of building types and densities is instrumental in providing a rich, dynamic urban fabric that appeals to both citizens and visitors and ensures Santa Monica's shared prosperity now and in the future,” wrote Donald Carson.

Bike advocate and Santa Monica resident Filet wrote, “I support intense development at the opportunity sites which can help create a walkable, interesting downtown, for the sake of the economy, environment and our public health.”

Former City Manager Susan McCarthy signed on because she thought, regardless of what height limits the Council eventually sets, the conversation should be informed by studying a wide range of options.

“We need good information to make important decisions,” McCarthy wrote. “Study a wide range of heights to determine light, shade, traffic and other impacts and the economics of realizing community benefits including open space and historic preservation.”

Former Rent Control Board and Planning Commission member Leslie Lambert, another signatory, wrote that the debate had become too volatile.

“Civility and mutual respect are critical for productive public dialogue,” she wrote. “I believe that until recently these elements have been missing in the community debate surrounding growth and height issues. Not all residents if Santa Monica agree on one approach to development, i.e. little or none at all. Those of differing opinions should not feel fearful to engage in the debate."

Rose wrote that she supports judging each development on its individual merits and does not believe that applying blanket height restrictions is a good approach.

“I also agree that some very vocal groups are drowning out many others who are not so vocal and don't have time to appear at the numerous meetings on this issue,” she wrote.

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