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Santa Monica Landmark Could Open as Brain Surgery Center

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

December 24, 2014 -- A landmark-designated building on Arizona Avenue off 22nd Street in Santa Monica could soon open for specialized brain surgery, despite being located in a residential area.

City Council members voted 6 to 0 (Terry O’Day was absent) last week to instruct City staff to present two options next month that would allow the structure, recently purchased by the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation, to open with the nonconforming use.

The Foundation plans to turn the building into its headquarters eventually, but wants to use it in the meantime for a group of surgeons who provide specialized brain tumor surgery.

“We have a unique opportunity for these world-class physicians and their outpatient clinic to provide their specialized care here in Santa Monica,” Foundation CEO Bob Klein told the council. 

Attorney Ken Kutcher said it was important to open as soon as possible.

“There are patients that the sooner this is available to them, the better off those patients will be,” he said. 

The three-story white structure with a curved entrance is known as Santa Monica Doctors Building, and was constructed in the early 1950s as a medical facility. It was designated as a landmark in 2009. 

Since the building has been vacant for more than a year, and therefore the medical use had been discontinued for that long, City law does not allow it to open for a purpose that does not conform with the multi-family residential zone. 

City Councilmember Ted Winterer and Councilmember Gleam Davis proposed a measure at last week’s meeting that would allows landmarks built for non-residential uses in multi-family areas to be used for that purpose, even if the nonconforming use had been discontinued for longer than a year.

“Broadly, we’re just trying to incentivize the use of these structures and their preservation,” said Winterer, who noted that this law is expected to change anyhow when the council approves revisions to the zoning code next year. 

Davis added, “Empty buildings are subject to deterioration. We have people breaking into them … which is difficult, particularly in the situation with a landmark building, where you want to maintain the elements that make it a landmark.” 

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said it might not be necessary for the council to approve an ordinance so the structure could open for medical purposes. She said the council could probably tell City staff not to enforce the law, since it likely would soon be changed. 

Moutrie said she would research the issue further and City attorneys would address it with the Landmarks Commission next month prior to the council meeting. At the council meeting, both concepts will be presented for a vote.

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