In its first crack at a reviewing plans for an unpopular mixed-use project just a couple hundred feet from the 10 freeway on the eastern edge of Santa Monica, the City Council said the project "doesn't make sense" for the neighborhood.
Trammell Crow Co. is seeking approval to build 260 apartments, 2,999 square feet of commercial space and an underground parking garage with 505 stalls on 2.5 acres on Pico Boulevard at Centinela Avenue, totaling about 172,000 square feet. Earlier draft of the plans called for 300 apartments, 5,000 square feet of commercial space, and 554 parking spaces.
The Santa Monica City Council said it shares much of the same concerns as the community. Though the project has been scaled down, they said it's still too big, puts residents too close to the freeway and could generate too much traffic.
"Elsewhere in this city, this project would be great," said outgoing councilman Bobby Shriver.
They agreed on Tuesday to allow Trammell Crow to conduct a state-mandated environmental review assessing the development's impacts on public health, safety, noise and traffic. As part of the review, the council told the developer to look at building a 100-percent commercial project and a much smaller project that retains some housing units.
"There’s a great level of concern about this project, as well as there should be," then-mayor Richard Bloom said at the council's Tuesday night meeting.
It will likely be several months before the council considers approving any development on the site.
But not developing it at all isn't realistic, said Gregory Ames, a principal at Trammell Crow.
Ames said the city's zoning codes allow the company to have 45,000 square feet of office space and 67 residential units without City Council approval.
"We honestly believe that our proposal for a mixed-income, garden courtyard apartment project is better and less impactful than the alternative uses," Ames told the council.
The current plans exceed the zoning codes in size, height and density and require a development agreement in exchange for Trammell Crow offering a number of "community benefits."
Bloom said the current plans aim to address the city's need for more housing. He and other council members have said a significant amount of Santa Monica traffic is generated by commuters, so they have approved new developments with low-income housing components in the hopes of getting more people to live and work in the city limits.
Thus, an all-commercial project might not be ideal, Bloom and councilwoman Gleam Davis agreed.
"A commercial project would create a lot more traffic," Davis said. "It's obviously a problematic site, but it seems one the developer is willing to tackle."
Residents have estimated the project, as currently proposed, would generate 2,000 new daily car trips in the Sunset Park neighborhood.
"This project is located one block east of Trader Joe's, near three I-10 freeway exits and entrances, and down the street from the [Santa Monica College] main campus on a section of Pico Blvd. that already has more than 26,000 daily car trips," wrote Debbie Millar and Ken Pappanduros, 33rd Street residents, in a email to the City Council.
In their email, Millar and Pappanduros noted several other developments planned or under construction on that side of town, including Village Trailer Park and Bergamot Transit Village, and 95 apartments under construction in West Los Angeles at the northeast corner of Pico and Centinela.
The Pico corridor is becoming "overwhelmed with development," Stephen Beech, a Santa Monica resident since 1995, wrote in an email to the council. Another resident, Zelda Zinn, said with Santa Monica College and Trader Joe's in the neighborhood, traffic is already "crazy" and "unbearable."
"We have lived in Santa Monica since 1996 and over the years we have seen a steady increase in rush hour traffic on Pearl [Street]," residents Coco and Frans Klinkenberg wrote to the council. "Over the last couple of years, it has become nearly impossible, not to mention unsafe, to back out of our driveway during the morning and evening commutes."
Eliminating the project's housing component could increase traffic woes, but it would alleviate some of the concerns about the impacts of freeway pollution, the council said.
"The proposed development will be directly next to the 10 freeway, with the associated noise and pollution that entails. How can that possibly be healthy for the residents?" longtime 34th Street resident Diane Kuyoomjian questioned in an email to the city. "And surely those persons who need low income housing will have little choice but to accept an unhealthy environment for themselves and their families."
For the safety of residents, councilman Terry O'Day said he might be in favor of a 100 percent commercial project. "I didn’t see that coming [into the meeting], but I’m swayed by the testimony I heard tonight," he said.
"It may not be the best location, especially for building for people to reside in," echoed councilman Bob Holbrook. "It would probably be a great community space."
Councilman Kevin McKeown's critique was the most extreme, "I don’t think there’s a way for us to make this project work," he said.