Cultivating Economic Recovery: City extends simplified zoning and permitting rules for new and existing businesses

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The following article first appeared at SantaMonica.gov

On Sept. 26, the Santa Monica City Council demonstrated its continued commitment to supporting downtown’s economic recovery by extending a variety of administrative changes that give potential commercial uses greater flexibility in the downtown area.

These updates, which go through 2028, include replacing the discretionary permit process with an expedited staff-level review to help save businesses significant time and money and increase the level of certainty on what is allowed.

Downtown Santa Monica

  • Restaurants now have greater flexibility to provide ancillary entertainment by right (no longer requires Conditional Use Permit)
  • More uses can obtain a streamlined Alcohol Exemption (AE) Permit, including cultural facilities and museums, instructional services, commercial entertainment and recreation, retail and convenience markets.
  • Change of use from a restaurant to another use no longer requires a public hearing.
  • There is now increased flexibility for unenclosed rooftop areas to host commercial or restaurant activity, including rooftop shades up to 10 feet in height allowed above roofline.
  • We have streamlined permitting of existing land uses, with less zoning restrictions, and the elimination of need for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs), Minor Use Permits (MUPs) and other discretionary approvals for a variety of new uses, including childcare facilities, general retail sales (medium scale facilities), pet stores, lodging, medical/dental offices, auto showrooms and food halls.
  • Change of ownership and interior remodels of existing legal non-conforming alcohol outlets without a CUP or AE no longer require zoning conformance review if the business has been in continuous use and hasn’t substantially changed how it operates.
  • The required Commercial Frontage Depth has been reduced from 50 feet to 25 feet of property for ground floor active uses to support subdividing tenant spaces and address current market demand.
  • Entrances and doorways to upper floors are now allowed directly from sidewalks and the Third Street Promenade, improving accessibility to upper floors.

Enabling more types of businesses to open or expand operations with staff-level approvals allows businesses to avoid the time and expense required for public hearings. This means businesses can open faster and have more time to focus on their successful future in Santa Monica.

But it’s not just downtown we’re focused on. We’ve made it easier to do business citywide. Here are some of the latest changes now in effect:

SPACE, SIZE and SIGNS

  • A non-conforming retail or eating and drinking use that has been vacant for more than a year can be quickly reoccupied.
  • A parking space credit of up to 10 spaces is available to support changes in land use. 
  • The city has reduced restrictions on the overall size and width of tenant spaces. 
  • Santa Monica Outdoors – Parklet, Sidewalk Dining and Private Outdoor Permit programs are up and running to support outdoor business operations and approvals for restaurant, fitness, salons/spas and retail code-compliant signs and sign programs can now be done at staff level.

FOOD and DRINK

  • Full service, limited service, and takeout restaurants of up to 5,000 square feet are now allowed by right, including the ability to provide off-site alcohol per the State of California allowances. 
  • A public hearing is no longer required for restaurants to provide on-site alcoholic beverage service within established operational conditions, subject to state licensing approvals, thereby reducing time, expenses and uncertainty for permitted operations.
  • The city has eliminated restrictions on the number of restaurants per block on Main Street.

USES

  • We have launched a new approval process and resources for pop-up activations. 
  • Health clubs, physical training and yoga studios up to 5,000 square feet are allowed in more areas by right. 
  • Temporary Use Permits have been extended from 45 days to up to 180 days (six months) for certain uses to allow more pop-up activations citywide.

Thanks to these recent zoning changes, the Third Street Promenade now has a new tattoo parlor and indoor pickleball court, Second Street has welcomed a women’s health clinic, Santa Monica Place has a new electric vehicle showroom and Main Street is seeing many exciting new restaurants open their doors.

More new business announcements coming soon!

DOING BUSINESS WITH THE CITY 

  • Sign up through the online appointment system for permit center services for an advance appointment, or walk in.
  • Use the 311 customer service online portal’s Virtual Counter Review service for minor project approvals.
  • We offer free marketing and business support for local businesses!

MORE INFORMATION 
Santa Monica’s 311: Dial 311 within Santa Monica city limits or (866) 311-7266 from outside Santa Monica, or email 311@santamonica.gov with questions or visit santamonica.gov/categories/business for resources to help businesses open, grow, and thrive in Santa Monica.

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