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Santa Monica Approves Zoning With Slow-Growth Slant

July 31, 1988|MICHAEL FISHER | Community Correspondent

After years of heated debate over land use in Santa Monica, the city has adopted a comprehensive Zoning Code seen as a major victory for slow-growth advocates.

The 418-page document, unanimously approved by the City Council, cuts new construction by an average of 30% in many areas of Santa Monica.

"This is the culminating step of an 8-year process, and I'm quite glad we've reached it," Mayor James Conn said Wednesday night after the council's vote. "It's an effective document and the result of hours and hours of time spent by the Planning Commission, community groups and city staff."

With the city's streets increasingly clogged by traffic, and sewage facilities increasingly strained, residents have demanded tighter controls on construction and development. The business community has warned, however, that cutting growth too drastically would undermine the city's tax base.

The ordinance, four years in the making, is designed to down-zone much of the city by limiting heights, sizes and uses of all buildings within the city's 21 zoning districts.

In some areas, such as the Special Office District along the western end of Olympic Boulevard, the size of new projects was reduced by one-third; in "commercial residential" areas, such as Montana Avenue, buildings cannot be higher than two stories. In most parts of the city, projects larger than 30,000 square feet will have to undergo special government review.

"Slow growth is needed. All of us on the council have been concerned with increasing traffic and densities and so we supported the ordinance," said Councilman Herb Katz.

However, some council members complained that the ordinance does too little, too late.

"This ordinance came after all the gigantic development projects, such as the Water Garden (office complex), were approved," Councilman David Finkel said. "It should have been drafted before the city was inundated with large commercial developments. I think (the ordinance) was a failure because it was enacted in July, 1988, instead of July, 1986."

Councilman Dennis Zane, who proposed most of the ordinance's down-zoning measures, suggested that its approval was an election-year tactic.

"I think (other council members) are basically trying to get voters to forgive them (for recent approval of massive projects), but I doubt it will work," Zane, who is running for reelection, said. "The down-zoning is a little like trying to close the barn door after the horses have run out."

Nevertheless, Zane said he believes that the new Zoning Code will effectively provide for future slow-growth in Santa Monica. "You won't know for sure until you've had to live with it," he added.

Christopher Harding, a Santa Monica land-use attorney, criticized the ordinance from the start and, representing the Chamber of Commerce, proposed numerous changes in the code.

"This is not the zoning ordinance we would have proposed . . . (but) we'll have to live with it," Harding said. "We got a fair hearing, but we are not terribly satisfied with the results."

Harding, who in the past warned that drastic restrictions would erode business confidence in the city, said the final version of the code was written in a "hysterical environment" where political considerations outweighed practical concerns.

"To this day, the city doesn't know the economic or fiscal impacts of those reductions," Harding said. "The degree of confidence in the city will depend on how honorable the city is in adhering to the new (building) standards."

Wednesday night's vote on the Zoning Code came after a 5-hour public hearing Tuesday night, at which dozens of homeowners criticized provisions that permit day-care centers and room rentals in residential districts.

The critics expressed concern that allowing rooms to be rented might expand the jurisdiction of the Rent Control Board into private homes, and they said allowing day-care centers would increase traffic and noise in some neighborhoods.

"You need a balance between the rights of neighbors and the rights for child care," resident Jeanne Holbrook told the council. "Neighbors have a right to a reasonably quiet place to live. (A large day-care center) creates extra traffic."

The code limits the number of children at a day-care center to 12.

Also coming under fire were provisions in the code that limit business use of parking lots in residentially zoned areas.

The new code allows for the commercial use of parking lots located on residential parcels, if businesses that use those lots for c parking do not redevelop or expand their buildings by more than 50%. Businesses that either redevelop or expand beyond the 50% limit would lose the right to use residential lots.

The new Zoning Code also creates a residential mobile home district for two of the city's three trailer parks.

By placing the Mountain View and Village trailer parks within the new district, the ordinance removes the parks from commercial and industrial zones and makes it less attractive for park owners to sell their property to commercial developers.

Several park tenants at the hearing praised the measure as a means of maintaining mobile home parks as an affordable form of housing.

But representatives for the park owners said the new policy was confiscatory and tantamount to taking away their property without just compensation.

The city's third mobile home park was not included in the new district, despite a motion by Zane. The city staff recommended the third park's zoning remain unchanged because it is surrounded by commercial buildings, and the new district would be inconsistent with the land use in that area.

A revised, interim map of the city showing the 21 zoning districts was approved by the council. A final map should be ready in about one year.

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