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City Council Poised to Halt Commercial Development on Possible Housing Sites

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica

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By Jorge Casuso

March 3, 2021 -- Santa Monica is poised to temporarily halt commercial development in zones that allow housing in an effort to meet a "very large" state mandated quota for affordable units.

The emergency ordinance the City Council is expected to approve on Tuesday would bar commercial projects in the Bergamot area, the Hospital Mixed Use zone and the Industrial Conservation zone.

Commercial projects totaling some 319,000 square feet of office space are currently pending on possible housing sites in those areas, staff said in its report to the Council.

"As parcels are turned over, applicants have increasingly chosen to pursue non-residential projects instead of housing projects," City staff wrote in their report.

"There is growing concern that as this trend continues in the context of the Housing Element Update, the City will be precluded from the opportunity to plan for the possibility of housing on these parcels," staff said.

Parcels in the Industrial Conservation (IC) Zone
Parcels in the Industrial Conservation (IC) Zone (Map courtesy of the City)

The emergency interim ordinance would prohibit 100 percent non-residential projects larger than 7,500 square feet in the IC District, with the possible exception of schools.

It also would prohibit single-unit dwellings in any non-residential zone and "impose additional restrictions to ensure that potential housing development sites are preserved."

The moratorium would allow the City to complete its Suitable Sites Analysis and 6th Cycle Housing Element Update.

During the upcoming eight-year cycle, Santa Monica is mandated by the State to plan for 8,873 housing units, with approximately 70 percent of them affordable, by 2028.

The "very large" allocation, staff said, "represents a five-times increase" over the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (“RHNA”) in the current cycle, from 2013 to 2021.

The previous Council embraced the quota early last year and streamlined the permitting process ("Santa Monica Scrambles to Meet Housing Targets Other Cities Are Opposing," March 9, 2020).

The current Council, however, includes three new slow-growth members who campaigned on challenging Santa Monica's allocation, which they contend will make the City more dense and congested.

Tuesday's ordinance would pave the way for more housing in the IC Zone along the 10 Freeway, which has seen little residential development but offers promising sites, according to staff.

"Its proximity to the Expo Line, aging building stock, and availability of larger parcels makes it an area that should be evaluated for housing potential as part of the Housing Element Update," staff wrote.

The current zoning ordinance updated in 2015 prohibited housing in the area out of a fear it might encourage real estate speculation that would displace the affordable workspaces "created from adaptive reuse of former industrial buildings."

The proposed ordinance also attempts to suspend new single-unit dwellings in commercial zones that have been allowed in all parts of the 8.3-square-mile city for decades, staff said.

"This allowance does not maximize the housing potential for the limited number of potential housing sites," staff wrote.

There are approximately 232 parcels with single-unit dwellings in commercial zones, according to staff.

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