The Santa Monica City Council is scheduled to vote this week on a proposal to build a three-level parking structure with a 49-unit housing complex on top, a project designed to provide more parking for trendy Main Street.
The $10.4-million project goes before the council on Tuesday.
Plans for a parking structure have already created debate among residents and merchants. Many merchants along the popular strip of stores, art galleries and chic restaurants contend that more parking space is vital to the survival of their businesses.
However, some residents fear that more parking spaces will attract more cars and pave the way for overdevelopment.
The structure would include one level of parking below ground, one at ground level and one above ground, with one story of housing on top of that, city officials said.
The height of the building would be under 27 feet in keeping with special zoning codes for the Main Street area.
City Manager John Jalili and members of his staff said the proposal has been scaled down and the housing added in an effort to make a solution to the parking problem more "palatable" to residents.
"It's a compromise for all concerned," Peggy Curran, director of Community and Economic Development, said.
"People have been divided over the parking structure. Most people admit there is a parking problem on Main Street (but) some people felt a structure would create a cure worse than the disease," she continued. "We wanted to be as responsive as possible to those concerns and address the parking problem."
In Ocean Park Area
The structure would occupy a 2-block-long, 158-space parking lot on Neilson Way between Hill and Kinney streets, half a block west of Main Street, in the Ocean Park neighborhood.
It would have a total of 460 spaces, with 84 assigned to residents of the housing units.
The building is part of a rezoning plan for Main Street that residents and merchants approved in the late 1970s, a time of transition and rapid growth in the area.
The plan included preferential parking for residents, much of which is already in effect but cannot be expanded until the structure is built, General Services Director Stan Scholl said.
A parking study commissioned by the city reported that the area has a shortage of 390 spaces in non-peak winter months and 523 spaces in the peak summer season.
Some residents of the high-rise apartment buildings and expensive beachfront condominiums across the street from the Neilson Way lot formed an ad hoc committee to oppose the parking structure. They contend that the city's study was flawed.
They took the unusual tack of conducting their own study by counting parked cars from their apartments overlooking the lot. The condo residents concluded that the parking shortage is limited to certain hours and does not justify the building of a multilevel structure.
To rally opposition to the plan, they circulated petitions and distributed flyers that warned: "If you love Main Street, your time may be running out. Do you want Westwood on Main?"
Herb Sandel, a leader of the group, said the city should look at alternatives for parking and warned that an excess of parking would lead to over-commercialization of the area.
"To add 300 parking spaces would provide a surplus in parking for a limited number of investors," he said. "The parking question should be addressed separately (from housing). It's a diversion to mix it with other issues."
City officials said the housing would buffer noise from the parking decks and make the project visually more pleasing.
Russell Barnard, president of the Main Street Property Owners Assn. and a member of the Merchants Assn., defended the need for a parking facility.
"We are not trying to build a structure that allows the area to change in character or that allows a significant increase in future development," Barnard said.
"People always say what they hate most (about Main Street) is not finding a place to park."
Barnard, who is a partner in an architectural firm and owns the Tavern on Main and other Main Street property, said the lack of parking has contributed to an unusually high turnover rate among businesses there.
"It makes it more difficult for everyone to do business when there is this kind of problem with parking," he said. Without the new structure, he said, "then we're dead."
'Ambiance' of Main Street
Councilwoman Chris Reed said some sort of additional parking is necessary to maintain the "ambiance" of Main Street.
"We need something. The question is how much is the right quantity," Reed said. "For me the real issue is historical preservation of the street and the economic viability of the street. There has to be a balance."
Councilman Dennis Zane agreed that some additional parking is necessary but that the addition should not go beyond the current need.
"It is not my objective to have parking serve as a basis for new development," Zane said. "I don't support expanded parking for expanded development."
The housing will cost $6.3 million and be made available to low- and moderate-income people.
Sixty percent of the $4.1 million needed to build the parking decks will come from meters and permit fees, and the rest from an assessment district. Commercial property owners may be assessed from 3 cents to 30 cents a square foot per month, Curran said.