The city has itself to thank for the recent flood of development agreement applications, councilwoman Gleam Davis said Tuesday night.
A few years ago, she said, city leaders asked developers to hold off on proposing new projects until Santa Monica had in place a new long-term planning guide. Davis said the adoption of the plan 2 ½ years ago, called the Land Use and Circulation Element, opened the floodgates to a backlog of applications.
"We’re like the snake that ate the mouse and then the mouse got too fat… we swallowed it," Davis said. "Now we’re digesting it.”
Councilman Kevin McKeown said he would need "brain bleach" to erase the memory of the metaphor.
The comments came as the City Council discussed the number of development agreement applications currently under review. The number grew Tuesday to 34. As recently as mid-December, the number was 26.
It "exceeds the number of applications we’ve seen over the years going back to the 70s, when the city first started doing [development agreements]," said city planner David Martin.
Though, as in McKeown's words, there's been a "glut" of applications, city planners estimated it would take 5-15 years for all of the projects to be built if they are eventually approved. (Since the LUCE was adopted, the City Council has approved eight development agreements: Agensys, St. Monica's, Seventh Street and Arizona Avenue, Colorado Creative Studios, 710 Wilshire and 401 Broadway.)
Martin said the adoption of new zoning codes in the coming months would probably result in fewer projects needing to obtain development agreements.
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.
Adopted in the summer of 2010, Santa Monica's Land Use and Circulation Element established a system of tiers to regulate development in most parts of the city. The first tier allows projects to be built without City Council approval if they meet a base height and floor area ratio. The higher the tier, the bigger and denser a developer can build if it's willing to provide the so-called community benefits.
Under the existing interim ordinance, Tier 1 limits projects to 7,500 square feet. Projects that exceed that size fall under tiers 2 and 3 and require development agreements, as do projects over 32 feet tall in downtown.
"We’ve created the opportunity for too many development agreements," said Santa Monica-based architect David Hibbert.
Hibbert is currently working on a proposal for a Mini Cooper dealership at 1400 Santa Monica Blvd., a project that requires a development agreement. "It's only slighter bigger than the Whole Foods we did on Wilshire Boulevard that was approved" by city staffers without a development agreement before the adoption of LUCE, he said.