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Planning Commission Set to Recommend Outright Ban on 'Micro Units'
in Santa Monica

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

April 30, 2019 -- The Planning Commission on Wednesday is expected to recommend an all-out ban on market rate "micro units" planning officials say threaten to undermine Santa Monica's housing policies.

The Commission will discuss recommending that the City Council amend the Zoning Ordinance to restrict Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) housing citywide unless it is 100 percent affordable or specialized housing.

Over the years, "concern has been consistently expressed about projects that exclusively propose small or micro-units in new housing projects," Acting City Planning Division Manager Roxanne Tanemori wrote in her staff report.

Those concerns flared when six Downtown projects totaling 361 "micro units" were proposed earlier this year on 5th, 6th and 7th streets between Colorado and Arizona avenues.

The projects take advantage of a loophole in the Downtown Community Plan that encourages housing construction.

"Such a proliferation of a single use and housing type is inconsistent with the City’s goals and policies related to production of a variety of housing types," according to the resolution the Commission will take up Wednesday.

An "over-concentration" of market-rate SRO units could "impact the future population of the City as such small units tend to cater to small households and would unduly limit housing options for larger households," the proposed resolution states.

The market rate SROs, staff said, also undermine the Downtown Community Plan's goal of turning the Central Business District into a thriving neighborhood.

In separate items on Wednesday's consent calendar, staff is proposing that the Commission deny the six Downtown projects that spurred the proposed zoning changes ("Staff Recommends Planning Commission Nix Proposed Market Rate SROs," April 29, 2019).

The projects fail to meet the enhanced common area requirements for market rate SRO uses under an Emergency Interim Zoning Ordinance adopted by the City Council last week, staff said.

They are also inconsistent with the regulations and standards set by an Urgency Interim Zoning Ordinance the Council approved March 26, before the six applications were completed.

The six projects will be "processed based on the ordinance that is currently under effect," said Planning Director David Martin.

The developers can make the necessary changes to the common area requirements and resubmit their proposals, he said.

Once adopted by the City Council, the proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance "would prohibit market rate SROs, period," Martin said.

Santa Monica isn't alone in battling a proliferation of smaller and smaller units being proposed amid the region's heated real estate market, staff said.

There has been a shift "toward developers proposing higher density multi-family projects to offset rising land value and construction costs," Tanemori wrote in her report.

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