The City Council is not going to tap the brakes on development, but it is tweaking how it approaches reviewing development agreement applications.
It said on Tuesday night it wants to give the community more input at the earliest stage of the review process. It also wants to expedite certain types of developments, possibly such as those that are smaller and least likely to create more traffic.
Applications are currently reviewed in the order they were received.
Changing the review process was the request of planning staffers who say they are overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of development agreement applications submitted since the adoption of Santa Monica's long-term planning guide, the Land Use and Circulation Element, in the summer of 2010.
The agreements give developers the rights to build beyond the city's size and zoning restrictions in exchange for providing "community benefits," like money to fund street improvements.
As of Tuesday night, the number of applications stood at 34. In addition to those applications, there are seven for mixed-use projects of fewer than 50 residential units that don't require development agreements and can be approved by staffers (development agreements require City Council approval).
"There is no question we have seen a lot out of the gate," said city planning director David Martin.
In December, Martin proposed slowing down the process by requiring developers to attend more advisory board and commission meetings. He even suggested the council could enact a moratorium on all development.
But his plan changed this month.
Instead of adding new regulatory hurdles, he asked the council to streamline the process by combining what are currently separate meetings of the Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission. He also dropped his recommendation for a moratorium.
Additionally, he proposed shifting the responsibility for early community meetings about the projects from city staffers to the developers. The current practice, Martin said, "not only requires staff time for the coordination of the community meeting, it puts staff in a position of representing a project at a time when staff has not yet had an opportunity to formulate a position on the project."
The council agreed. It also said it wanted the meetings to be more productive for residents. Ideas included holding the meetings close to the project sites and filming them for an online archive.
"The residents need to be more involved in early meetings," said councilwoman Gleam Davis.
In rethinking how it evaluates applications, the council weighed input from the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and local business community—who contend slowing down development would put the city at a disadvantage—and from neighborhood groups who worry the development is happening too quickly for the impacts to be fully assessed.
"Many of the projects [would] improve the jobs-housing balance in the city," said . consultant Rob York. There's also concern among business owners, he said, "about the overall economy and budget pressure looming in the city" given the loss of the Redevelopment Agency.