UPDATE 3/5/2024: The ARB approved the building 5-0 last night with some small conditions that staff and the developer believe will easily be worked out.

I see it every week during my Saturday run at the southwest corner of Ocean Park and Lincoln Boulevards. A grocery store and strip mall surrounded by a sea of car parking. It’s hardly urban planning at its best.

A proposal from Cypress Equity group known as “Lincoln Center” would turn the lot into a 521-unit housing project, with 73 of those units being affordable. The project is heading to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) tonight (Agenda, Item 6A) for its final hearing. The ARB is widely expected to approve the measure, its ministerial powers are limited to architectural issues such as the colors used, proposed materials or landscaping plans.

There’s a lot of propaganda dressed up as information about the project and the city’s role in approving it, but you can find a “just the facts” F.A.Q. on the project on the city’s website.

The project as currently proposed was submitted under the city’s “pre Housing Element zoning” in 2022 which only allowed 1.5 FAR, meaning that the developer can build 1.5 times of floor space as the total area of the lot. (Confused? Me too. An explanation of FAR can be found here). This yielded 348 units of base density, which became 521 units after a 50% density bonus allowed by state law.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, the same advocacy group whose advocacy around the housing element inadvertently led to the Builder’s Remedy situation in 2022, thinks this is too much. The group fought the city’s first approval of Lincoln Center in 2022 and is fighting again now. A “petition” urging the development team to reconsider the project size and number of units has reached 750 letters according to a press release re-printed uncritically as a news story in the Santa Monica Daily Press.

Housing advocates worry that the letter is meant not just to be a rallying point for SMCLC, but a precursor to a challenge either tonight at the ARB or even a potential legal challenge down the road.

But if SMCLC succeeds in getting the current project pulled or rejected, it might not lead to the conclusion it’s expecting.

The new Housing Element zoning passed in response to the Builder’s Remedy allows 2.50 FAR which yields 580 units of base density. When combined with the new 100% state density bonus, you get 1,160 units. More than twice as large as the original project. 

Given that the housing plan is already approved, the city’s role in approving this project, should the developer choose to re-evaluate the project and try to maximize their value, could lead to another unintended consequence.

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