Starting next week, developers will have to heed a new set of building standards designed to reduce the size of future development throughout Santa Monica.
The restrictions are the first step toward a comprehensive zoning code that, after years of debate, is scheduled to be approved this summer. The proposed code would cut allowable development by 25% to 50% in many areas of the city.
But because several months will elapse before the new code starts, city officials decided to enact an interim ordinance to prevent developers from rushing projects in for 11th-hour approval before the stricter standards are in place.
The Santa Monica City Council gave unanimous preliminary approval to the interim ordinance Tuesday night. A second vote is set in two weeks.
Even though the ordinance technically will not become law for about 45 days, the length of time needed for a project to make it through the development review process means that by the time any project submitted after Friday comes up for a vote, the new restrictions will be in place.
Under the short-term ordinance, city planners have until Friday afternoon to judge as "substantially complete" any application for a new project; those projects will be governed by the older, less restrictive guidelines for heights and densities.
That deadline spurred a mini-rush to the planning office by developers, officials said.
"It wasn't a great land rush," Planning Director Paul Berlant said. "(But) there were quite a few (developers) trying to get their projects in the mill before the ordinance.
"That's perfectly fine. That's why the council gave fair warning."
Berlant said city planners alerted developers, asking them to submit their applications by last week. He said the planning office received 12 proposals last week, eight of which would not have met the new guidelines. The total was four times the usual week's volume, he said.
Among the proposals submitted were an "auto plaza" for 10 automobile dealerships and several office buildings, including one of six stories.
Developers and some business community leaders have criticized the City Council's efforts to downzone, saying restrictions will drive away new business and cut into the city's tax base.
At the same time, slow growth proponents, alarmed by a recently accelerated pace of development, charge that city officials are not doing enough to control it. They are proposing a series of ballot initiatives for November that would put a tighter clamp on development.
The interim ordinance, designed to incorporate the strictest of the limits that the City Council is considering, cuts heights to two stories along Montana Avenue and some sections of Pico Boulevard, to two or three stories along Lincoln Boulevard, and to three or four stories in much of downtown unless an exemption is made after a site review.
The council may change some of these restrictions while revising the final zoning code. In Tuesday night's meeting, the council approved an amendment to the interim ordinance that allows some auto dealerships to be built slightly larger than originally envisioned. The amendment applies to dealerships in an area just east and west of Cloverfield Boulevard and just north and south of Colorado Avenue.
The amendment was aimed in part at encouraging auto dealerships to move off Santa Monica Boulevard. Councilmen Alan Katz and Dennis Zane opposed the amendment, saying exceptions should not be made in an interim ordinance.
"This is extremely important," neighborhood activist Judy Abdo said in praising the council's adoption of the interim ordinance. "A great number of projects would have gone in without this ordinance."