Planning Commission Mtg: June 21, 2000
TO: The Honorable Planning Commission
FROM: Planning Staff
SUBJECT: Appeal 00-067 of Architectural Review Board Approval 00-017
Address: 1513 9th Street
Appellant: Robert Dinsmore
Applicant: William Brantley
Property Owner: Westmark Harris REI III
Action: Appeal of the Architectural Review Board’s approval of building design, colors and materials and landscape and irrigation plans for a proposed six-unit residential condominium project located at 1513 Ninth Street. The appeal is based on the appellant’s contention that the building design is flawed and environmentally irresponsible.
Recommendation: Deny based on findings.
Permit Streamlining Act: Not applicable to Appeal.
SITE LOCATION AND DESCRIPTION
The subject property is a 7,500 sq. ft. parcel located on the east side of Ninth Street between Colorado Avenue and Broadway, with a frontage of 50 feet. Surrounding uses consist of a 4-story mixed use commercial/residential building in the Broadway Commercial District to the north, a single story residential building in the R3/Medium Density Multiple Family Residential District to the south, and 3-story apartment buildings across the alley in the Broadway Commercial District to the east. Across the street to the west are a single story retail store (Mittel’s Frames/Art supplies) with surface parking, and a two-story multifamily residential structure. The existing on-site use is a single story pre-school. Although there is an existing tree in the parkway in front of the property, there are no mature trees on the site.
Zoning District: Broadway Commercial District (BCD)
Land Use District: Broadway Mixed-Use District
Parcel Area: 50’ x 150’ = 7,500 s.f.
The project consists of a request for approval for building design, colors, materials, landscape and irrigation plans and modification to the pedestrian-oriented standards of the Zoning Ordinance for the construction of a new 3-story, 45-ft. tall, 6-unit loft style condominium building. The project provides one at-grade parking space, and a 12-space semi-subterranean parking garage accessed from Ninth Court Alley. The site is currently developed with a single story pre-school building, which has been closed for a few years and will be demolished. Although there is a City street tree in the center of the parkway in front of the property, no mature trees exist on the site.
The project is categorically exempt from the provisions of CEQA pursuant to Section 15303, Class 3(b) of the State Implementation Guidelines in that the project will allow the construction of not more than six dwelling units in an urbanized area.
Action by the Architectural Review (ARB), or Planning Commission on appeal, is not subject to any special fees.
The project contains less than 15,000 square feet of floor area and therefore is not subject to posting requirements specified by Santa Monica Municipal Code Section 9.32.180. However, a courtesy notice was published in Our Times section of the Los Angeles Times on June 5, 2000, that included information about the public hearing and identified a contact for additional information. Additionally, notice of the public hearing and was sent to the applicant/appellant, all neighborhood organizations, the Architectural Review Board and posted on the City’s Web site.
On December 1, 1999, the Planning Commission approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP 99-12) for the construction of the proposed six-unit, loft-style condominium project. The building design was submitted for review to the Architectural Review Board on February 7, 2000. At that meeting, the Board directed the applicant to incorporate additional pedestrian oriented elements along the Ninth Street façade and requested additional landscaping to reinforce the building design.
After three additional meetings (March 6, 20 and April 3, 2000) the Board approved the project as presented on the attached drawings. Some of the more significant changes to the design included larger windows and a revised disabled access ramp adjacent to the Ninth Street elevation, a revised landscape plan, modifications to a steel element at the front façade and the inclusion of an art element, all of which intended to improve the building’s pedestrian-oriented design.
The project was appealed on April 13, 2000.
The project includes a 3-story, 45’ tall loft-style condominium with one at-grade parking space and a 12-space semi-subterranean parking garage accessed from Ninth Court Alley. Each unit is one story with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, with the exception of the two units on the second floor that include a loft containing a study. The building design incorporates significant setbacks at all elevations. A thirteen-foot setback is provided at the first floor adjacent to the southern property line, instead of the code minimum of eight feet. Articulation is further increased as the setbacks deepen at each floor level due to an angled building wall. A third floor cantilevered projection also adds articulation to this elevation and partially covers two balconies located on the second floor. The roof slopes downward from the southern building wall to the north further reinforcing the angular appearance of the building. The northern building wall has a concave design allowing for some ground floor garden space, patio areas and a spa/lap pool. A cantilevered walkway extends the entire length of the north building elevation at the second and third floor connecting the units to the front and rear stair enclosures. The front and rear building elevations follow the angles imposed by other building walls and contain small privacy windows and the aforementioned stair enclosures.
The proposed building façade is a panelized metal siding with a Parchment finish. The windows on the south elevation are relatively uniform in shape and location. Windows on the street and alley elevation are very small and sparsely placed. The north elevation also features small windows but are configured in a horizontal alignment and symmetrically balanced on each floor level. All windows are framed with aluminum. Open metal guardrails are proposed at the cantilevered walkway, exterior stairs and on the balconies. The two stair enclosures at the front and rear of the building will be exposed steel painted a reddish brown color with aluminum framed windows. At the front elevation, an exposed metal beam structure serves to frame the front entry way adjacent to Ninth Street and contributes to this elevation’s visual interest. Mechanical equipment and stair enclosures are located on the roof and screened with the same panelized metal siding found on the exterior of the building. Two roof decks and a planting area also located on the roof.
The project is located in the Broadway Commercial District which requires that the building incorporate a pedestrian oriented design adjacent to Ninth Street. In addition to pedestrian-oriented amenities such as recessed entries, lighting, a bench and planters, fifty percent of the façade up to eight feet in height must be visually transparent into the building and no portion of the front façade may include 20 lineal feet of area that is opaque. As designed, the proposed structure does not meet these requirements. A disabled access ramp runs adjacent and parallel to the front property line to access the stair enclosure, which leads to another ramp providing side yard access to the bottom unit. The southwest corner of the structure provides pedestrian orientation in the form of a bench in front of a landscaped area.
The Architectural Review Board, and Planning Commission on appeal, has the authority to approve an exception from the pedestrian oriented design requirements if the following two findings can be made:
Because this property is located at the boundary between a residentially and commercially zoned district, and given the intended residential use of the building, staff recognizes that some modification to the pedestrian design standards may be warranted in order to insure privacy to the occupants of the building and to serve as a transition between the different zoning districts.
Landscape and Irrigation Plans
The landscape plan includes a mixture of living plant material and hardscape elements at six general locations; two raised planters near the northern property line and three raised planters near the southern property line and another planter located parallel to the front property line. The hardscape elements include a 19.5-inch diameter stone sphere and a black granite polished bowl fountain, and ornamental crushed white rock. Plant materials consists of four Ginkgo Biloba (36-inch box) trees; 15-gallon Buddha’s Belly Bamboo, Black Bamboo, and Carolina Laurel Cherry shrubs; 5-gallon English Lavender, New Zealand Flax and Fortnight Lily shrubs; 1-gallon Blue Fescue, Society Garlic and Rosemary shrubs; and, Marathon II grass. Yellow Banksia Rose and Lavender Trumpet vines are proposed on the property line wall on the south elevation.
Architectural Review Board Action
The primary issues raised by the Board during the public meetings related to pedestrian orientation, siting and landscape design. Although the Board was mixed on the use of the corrugated metal, there was general support for the proposed design. The Board did express some concern about the appropriateness of the ‘industrial’ design in context with the neighborhood, but permitted some degree of latitude given the transitional nature of the zoning district and existing improvements in the vicinity. More significant discussion occurred with respect to pedestrian orientation and landscaping.
The Board’s review of the project focused on the Ninth Street elevation specifically with respect to its minimal articulation, small windows, sparse landscaping and general lack of pedestrian-oriented amenities. Boardmembers described the structure as stark and fortress-like and unanimously agreed that additional pedestrian-oriented elements were needed. Some suggestions that were considered, but ultimately not implemented included a redesigned floor plan that would place the living spaces adjacent to Ninth Street, instead of the bedroom, to permit larger windows and enable some degree of visual access into the building. Also considered were balconies, a redesigned disabled access ramp and an entry door adjacent to Ninth Street.
An attempt to soften the appearance of the building and improve the relationship between the proposed structure and the street activity was, however, achieved after several revisions to the front building elevation adjacent to Ninth Street. The more notable improvements included a landscape strip adjacent to the front property line; an area for a public art element; complimentary materials, a lighter gauged mesh for the disabled access ramp and handrail; and, a sunbrella fabric awning. The window systems were also enlarged and recessed from the original design and some windows now include metal blade projections that add shadow and visual interest to the façade.
The Board determined that the additional architectural and landscape elements reduced the building to more of a human scale and provided an appropriate degree of pedestrian orientation, particularly given the transitional context of the neighborhood and intended residential use of the building. At three of the four meetings, the Board heard testimony from two residents in the area, both objecting to the proposed design. The project was appealed by one of the residents who spoke at the meeting.
The appellant raises four issues with regard to the project including concern about the siting of the building and solar insulation; the location of the lap pool on the shady side of the building; the scale and character of the front façade; and, overall aesthetics (see Attachment A). The appellant contends that the proposed building design is environmentally irresponsible due to the non-shaded and non-recessed window systems and angled wall design on the south elevation. The proposed design, according to the applicant, would exacerbate the effects of solar insulation and burden the mechanical equipment. The appellant also suggests that the proposed design appears to be inconsistent with the City’s Sustainable Development Guidelines.
A similar siting-related issue is identified for the lap pool that is located at the northern side yard between the proposed 45-foot tall building and the adjacent 4-story mixed use structure. The appellant suggests that a potential wind tunnel effect, a lack of light and solar heating makes the proposed location inappropriate for swimming activity. Alternatively, a more appropriate location would be on the south side of the building where there is more landscaping, sunlight and a potential for solar heating, again minimizing the impact and demand on the mechanical equipment.
The third item raised by the appellant pertains to the Ninth Street building elevation and the use of the building as a transitional statement between commercial and residential uses. Specifically, the appellant questions the industrial design and contends that the front elevation is blank and expansive which minimizes the attempts to bring the structure into a human scale. The appellant suggests that the building design does not reinforce streetside activities and does not engage the residential use with the street due to sparsely placed small windows and lack of balconies.
Lastly, the appellant states that the building lacks grace and style. In addition to the comments noted above, the appellant maintains the structure is massive and inappropriately uses exposed structural steel. The appellant recommends that the design be revised to address issues related to the building massing, reorient the glass openings and provide more building articulation.
The aesthetics of the building design, the architecture and the appropriateness of the structure in context with the neighborhood were discussed at length during four meetings before the Architectural Review Board. Issues related to the pedestrian-orientation of the building were considered and modifications incorporated to introduce human-scaled elements to a design that possesses several industrial qualities. The transitional nature of the site between commercial and residential zoning districts and, given existing improvements in the block that range from single family dwellings, apartment buildings, commercial structures to an Edison substation, provides an opportunity for design flexibility and design integration within the existing environment. Staff concurs with the Board that the design, while not entirely representative of the residential use it is intended to serve, is unique and creative and provides an appropriate transition between uses.
The issues raised by the appellant regarding the City’s Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines appear to be well thought out and worthwhile for the applicant to consider. The City guidelines however, are not mandatory and go beyond the purview of the Architectural Review Board, and Planning Commission on appeal. The issue related to green building design was discussed by the Planning Commission at the December 1,1999 meeting when the project was first presented to the Commission, however, no condition was implemented to require compliance with the City’s Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines.
The applicant submitted a response to the appellant’s letter, which is included with this report as Attachment F.
It is recommended that the Planning Commission deny Appeal 00-067 and uphold the Architectural Review Board’s determination approving the building design, colors, materials, landscape and irrigation plans and modifications to the pedestrian-oriented design standards, based upon the following findings and subject to the conditions below:
Findings for Approval of Building Design, Colors, Materials, Landscape and Irrigation Plans
Findings for Modification to the Pedestrian-Oriented Design Standards
Prepared by: Jonathan Lait, Associate Planner