Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Manhattan Density Levels Arrive in Santa Monica, as City Prohibits Single-Family Dwellings in Commercial Districts

City Council Approves Temporary Ban of Non-Residential Developments, as it Crams Down High Density Housing

In an effort to "evaluate all available areas of the city for housing potential," the City Council has approved an interim zoning ordinance (IZO) banning non-residential developments in Santa Monica and single-family dwellings in the commercial districts for the next 45 days.

Councilmembers said the ban is a "general pause" to allow staff to identify potential housing sites in Santa Monica, as part of the Housing Element Update. The Council will review the IZO for possible extension in April.

The new ban – first proposed by Council on January 12 – does not apply to multi-unit residential dwellings, additions or modification to current structures, schools, the Promenade, Bergamot Station and the industrial area south of Olympic Boulevard, among other exceptions, city officials said.

Every eight years, Santa Monica is required to analyze its housing needs and compile data on housing stock and demographics. An important segment of the Housing Element is the Suitable Sites Inventory (SSI), which lists sites throughout the city that hold "realistic potential for housing development based on a jurisdiction's Regional Housing Needs Allocation number."

For the 2021-2029 planning period, Santa Monica has been mandated to build 8,873 housing units, 70% of which are affordable housing units, city officials said in a report. "The significant focus on affordable housing reflects the housing needs of the community in light of high housing costs and residents and workers increasingly unable to afford housing in Santa Monica."

City staff, which is currently preparing a draft SSI for the Housing Element, said that, in recent years, it has seen "an uptick in applications submitted for non-residential development on potential housing sites in the city's commercial districts – largely consisting of office space."

"And with only 3% of the City's total land area available as the highest potential for housing, the turnover of even a handful of sites to non-residential development instead of housing projects would greatly impact the City's ability to have sufficient sites for the SSI and would very likely hamper future Housing Element updates," said city officials.

As approved by the Council last Tuesday, the new ordinance prohibits non-residential projects of greater than 7,500 square feet and single-unit dwellings in any non-residential zone and impose additional restrictions to ensure that potential housing development sites are preserved in Santa Monica. The ban does not apply to projects in progress.

The new ordinance gives the city "a better opportunity to protect its current residents...and avoid gentrification," said Councilman Kevin McKeown.

Prior to its unanimous vote, the Council discussed sites and streets that should be exempted from the new zoning restrictions, stressing that the Housing Element may take more than 45 days to complete and the moratorium may impact local developers and businesses during the pandemic.

Following a lengthy discussion, the Council agreed to add to the exempt list: projects that do not require a planning entitlement, automobile dealers on Santa Monica Boulevard and development agreements.

"It is more likely, given the amount of time these projects have been in process, that the proposed interim zoning regulations would only have the effect of temporarily delaying one or more of these projects, rather than incentivizing the property owner to instead convert the site into a housing project" city staff said in a report.


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