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Staff Recommends Santa Monica Council Scrap Idea of Development Ballot Measure


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By Jorge Casuso

May, 7, 2018 -- Planning staff is recommending that the City Council not place a measure on the November ballot that would require a "super-majority" approval for developments that exceed Santa Monica's height and density limitations.

In its report to the Council, staff argued that the City's Zoning Ordinance and the Downtown Community Plan already set strict zoning standards that make most Development Agreements (DA) "no longer either necessary or desirable."

"Predictability for both property owners and residents outweighs the perceived benefits that came from negotiating heights and density on a project by project basis," staff wrote.

"Council has clearly indicated a commitment to enforce those limits by applying them consistently to all future projects and that has been the established practice without deviation since the adoption of the Zoning Ordinance and the Downtown Community Plan," staff said.

The Council asked to explore a super-majority requirement approved by voters at its meeting December 12 ("Santa Monica City Council to Consider Ballot Measure Requiring 'Super-Majority' Vote for Biggest Projects," December 14, 2017).

Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who made the motion, said he hoped the ballott measure would help quell "a fear in the community of over-development in the future.”

Staff's recommendation to reject the ballot measure is one of three options the Council will consider at its meeting Tuesday night.

A second option would allow developments to exceed the zoning ordinance standards through a DA if the project is consistent with the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and any applicable Specific Plan.

The final option would require a super-majority (five of the seven Council members) for any project that exceeds the height and density limits contained in the zoning ordinance.

This option, however, would exempt the large projects proposed at specific sites Downtown that can reach a height up to 130 feet with a DA.

They include a Frank Gehry designed mixed-use hotel project facing Palisades Park, a mixed-use hotel on City-owned land downtown at 4th/5th and Arizona and the proposed redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, which includes luxury condominiums and affordable housing.

Under the LUCE, large developments -- called Tier 3 projects -- can exceed height and density limits "if the relevant governing document is amended, or, in limited circumstances, if a Development Agreement is obtained," staff said.

"Any such amendment or Development Agreement must be adopted by ordinance and is subject to referendum and reversal by the voters."

The LUCE allows Tier 3 projects only in limited areas of the city -- particularly along stretches of major east-west thoroughfares near the new Expo Light Rail Line, staff said.

It also allows projects in the Mixed Use Boulevard Low District that include 100 percent affordable housing or a designated landmark, according to staff.

"While these projects could exceed the height and FAR limits in the zoning ordinance, they must be consistent with the height and FAR maximums contained in the LUCE," staff said.


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