Planning Commission Meeting: June 16, 2004 Santa Monica, California
TO: The Honorable Planning Commission
FROM: Planning Staff
SUBJECT: Development Review Permit (03DR-005); Text Amendment (04TA-004); and, Conditional Use Permit (04CUP008)
Address: 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard
Applicant: Claire Heron
Action: Application for an amendment to a previously approved Development Review permit, consideration of a Text Amendment to permit restaurants with more than 50 seats in the C2 zone, and a Conditional Use Permit, consistent with the proposed text amendment, to allow a 165 seat restaurant.
Recommendation: Deny the proposed Development Review permit, Text Amendment, and Conditional Use Permit.
Permit Streamlining Expiration Date: The Permit Streamlining Act does not apply to projects involving a legislation action, such as the proposed text amendment.
SITE LOCATION AND DESCRIPTION
The subject property is a 66,000 square foot parcel located on the north side of Ocean Park Boulevard. The parcel has street frontages adjacent to Ocean Park Boulevard, Twenty Ninth and Thirtieth Streets. Surrounding land uses consist of commercial, multiple family and single family residential uses to the west and east, the Santa Monica Business Park to the south and an office building to the north. Adjacent properties facing Ocean Park Boulevard are similarly zoned C2, but transition to a predominantly zoned single family neighborhood to the north; the business park is zoned C5. No physical change is proposed to any of the existing buildings on the property.
Zoning District: C2, Neighborhood Commercial
Land Use District: Neighborhood Commercial
Parcel Area: 220' x 300' = 66,000 square feet
The applicant proposes to amend an existing Development Review permit to allow two-way vehicular traffic between Twenty Ninth and Thirtieth Streets. An existing driveway along Ocean Park Boulevard would be closed and incorporated into an existing pedestrian-oriented courtyard with general seating and other amenities. The City’s Architectural Review Board would review proposed changes to the courtyard design. Additionally, the applicant seeks to legalize an existing restaurant that has 165 seats. Since the C2 district restricts restaurants to 50 or fewer seats, a text amendment has been filed to permit larger restaurants subject to the Planning Commission’s approval of a Conditional Use Permit. Accordingly, the applicant has also filed the Conditional Use Permit application for the restaurant.
MUNICIPAL CODE AND GENERAL PLAN CONFORMANCE
The request to close off the Ocean Park Boulevard driveway is not inconsistent with any municipal code regulation. However, the request requires an amendment to a previously approved Development Review permit and must comply with the City’s General Plan. As detailed later in this report, staff does not believe the proposed request is consistent with the General Plan.
Regarding the restaurant over 50 seats, this portion of the project does not comply with the municipal code which is the reason the applicant submitted the subject Text Amendment application.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not apply to projects that a public agency rejects or disapproves. Consistent with Section 15270 of the CEQA Guidelines, no determination has been made regarding the project’s potential for environmental related impacts.
HISTORIC RESOURCES INVENTORY STATUS
No change is proposed to the existing buildings on the project site, which received building permits in 1985. The subject property is not listed on the City’s Historic Resources Inventory.
RENT CONTROL STATUS
The project is not subject to any special City Planning related fees.
Pursuant to Municipal Code Section 9.04.20.20.080 and in accordance with the posting requirements set forth by the Zoning Administrator, prior to application filing, the applicant posted a sign on the property regarding the subject application. At least two weeks prior to the public hearing date, the applicant submitted a photograph to verify the site posting and to demonstrate that the sign provides the following information: Project case number, brief project description, name and telephone number of applicant, site address, date, time and location of public hearing, and the City Planning Division phone number. A copy of the site posting photograph is contained in Attachment A. It is the applicant's responsibility to update the hearing date if it is changed after posting.
In addition, pursuant to Municipal Code Section 9.04.20.22.050, notice of the public hearing was mailed to all owners and residential and commercial tenants of property located within a 500 foot radius of the project and published in the “California” Section of The Los Angeles Times at least ten consecutive calendar days prior to the hearing. A copy of the notice is contained in Attachment A.
On May 19, 2004, the applicant was notified by email of the subject hearing date.
In addition, the applicant has stated that two on-site meetings were held with area residents on April 21, 2003 and May 19, 2004. A meeting with the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood organization was held on May 7, 2003. At the time this report was prepared FOSP had not offered a formal position on the project. The applicant has provided notes from those meetings and sample notices used to encourage public attendance at the meetings.
Entitlements to construct the subject commercial center were approved in 1985. The original proposal included access driveways from Ocean Park Boulevard, Twenty Ninth and Thirtieth Streets. A traffic analysis and Negative Declaration were prepared as part of the original project. The findings then concluded that the project had no impact to neighborhood street segments or intersections. Nevertheless, the Planning Commission required the removal of the Thirtieth Street driveway and restricted access on Twenty Ninth Street to ingress only. This determination on the driveway restrictions was intended to minimize commercial traffic intrusions into residential neighborhoods and ensure conformance with the City’s General Plan.
A request to create an exit only driveway on Thirtieth Street was denied by the Planning Commission in 1989. Conflicts with Circulation Element Policy 4.2.3 of the General Plan, which encourages new developments and access points to be located in a manner that does not encourage the utilization of local residential streets for its parking and access, was cited in the determination.
Other land use entitlements were granted for individual tenant spaces located on the property. For instance, three fast food restaurants, Fast Taco, Subway, and a third use that has since been abandoned, received Development Review permit approvals with limitations on the number of seats and hours of operation. A Conditional Use Permit for alcohol service was approved for the tenant space currently occupied by The Counter. An Alcohol Exemption was issued for Il Forno Café in 1986, which at that time had 49 seats.
Existing Municipal Code and Land Use Entitlement Violations
The subject property is currently not in compliance with the originally approved Development Review permit (DR 285) in terms of vehicular egress from Twenty Ninth Street and with regard to the designation of two vehicle loading zone spaces at either end of the surface parking lot. Specifically, the original approval requires primary vehicular access from Ocean Park Boulevard and prohibits vehicular egress from the Twenty Ninth street driveway. The incorporation of a control device, such as tire shredders are required. While initially installed, the control device has been removed which permits vehicles to exit onto Twenty Ninth Street. The applicant proposes to modify this condition and a second condition that that encourages delivery trucks to enter from the Ocean Park Boulevard driveway.
Fast Taco is a fast food restaurant that exceeds the number of seats permitted within the establishment. The use presently exceeds the originally authorized provision for 15 seats. To add more seating, the use would need to amend the existing Development Review permit (DR 353) under a separate application.
The Counter, a new restaurant at the commercial center, exceeds the number of seats permitted for that establishment. Approved as an alcohol serving restaurant with a Conditional Use Permit for 49 seats and no waiting area, the establishment now has 59 seats and an additional ten seats in a designated waiting area. Resolution of this violation is not a part of the subject application.
Il Forno Café, the subject of the proposed Text Amendment and Conditional Use Permit, exceeds the originally authorized 49 seats by 61-116 seats depending on whether service is offered to patrons seated outside the restaurant. Additionally, the restaurant is in violation of the Alcohol Exemption approval that was issued in 1986. The proposed applications are intended to permit the restaurant to retain 165 seats. However, the need for a Conditional Use Permit for the alcohol service was not realized until after the public notice was prepared. Therefore, no approval can be granted to Il Forno Café to permit expanded alcohol service. Should the Planning Commission determine that approval of the Text Amendment and Conditional Use Permit are warranted, this matter should be continued in order to allow proper notification of the alcohol-related component of the project.
Additionally, two other tenants, Master Copy and Galaxy Video, have window signs that have not received staff or Architectural Review Board approval. Formal documentation with the City’s Code Enforcement Division of the known violations will be filed prior to the public hearing. None of the existing entitlements include the standard Planning Commission condition that forestalls consideration of any amendments until existing violations are resolved. Therefore, staff recommends that Planning Commission consider the subject requests despite the existing violations, which staff will follow up on prior to and after the public hearing.
Project Design – On Site Circulation
The applicant requests an amendment to the existing Development Review permit in order to improve vehicular and pedestrian safety and enhance the aesthetic and pedestrian-oriented environment of the courtyard. To implement these changes, the applicant proposes to close off the mid-block Ocean Park Boulevard driveway, which provides two-way traffic between on site parking and Ocean Park Boulevard, and establish a new two-way driveway at Thirtieth Street. The restriction permitting ingress only traffic from Twenty Ninth Street would be removed to permit two-way traffic at this driveway.
The applicant asserts that the Ocean Park Boulevard driveway has become increasingly hazardous due to a significant increase in the public use of the courtyard, pedestrian activity and vehicular traffic. The applicant states that many motorists entering the commercial center from Ocean Park Boulevard do so at unsafe speeds to avoid being hit by other motorists continuing west along Ocean Park Boulevard. It is argued that the existing condition is unsafe for pedestrians on the sidewalk and those crossing the driveway at designated on-site crosswalks.
Another concern cited by the applicant that contributes to the unsafe condition is that passenger cars and delivery trucks, despite prohibitive signage, park on the driveway restricting the forward progress of a motorist entering from the Ocean Park Boulevard driveway. The applicant further maintains that patrons exiting from this driveway often look toward oncoming traffic and have a tendency to move forward without first observing pedestrians activity in the opposite direction. The applicant suggests that the proposed driveway configuration will improve on-site circulation, facilitate delivery operations, and enhance the pedestrian-orientation of the courtyard. The applicant recognizes that there will be a redistribution of vehicle trips on the numbered streets, but asserts that any increase of vehicular traffic on Thirtieth Street will be offset by a proportional decrease in traffic along Twenty Ninth Street.
Project Design – Text Amendment & Conditional Use Permit (Il Forno Café)
The applicant proposes to modify Santa Monica Municipal Code Section 9.04.08.16.040 – Conditionally Permitted Uses, in the C2 District. The amendment would permit restaurants with greater than 50 seats, with or without alcohol service, subject to Planning Commission approval of a Conditional Use Permit. Currently, restaurants in this district are limited to 50 seats or less. Establishments not serving alcohol are permitted by right, while alcohol serving establishments require a Conditional Use Permit, unless eligible for an Alcohol Exemption. The proposed amendment is limited to the C2 District adjacent to Ocean Park Boulevard and bounded by Twenty Fifth Street to the west and the eastern city limits. The remaining six Neighborhood Commercial districts would not be affected by the proposed amendment. The subject Conditional Use Permit application has been filed for concurrent review with the proposed text amendment.
The applicant notes that the existing restaurant has been in continuous operation in its present configuration since 1989. According to the applicant, the restaurant is highly regarded by the local community and is a positive amenity to the neighborhood.
The subject property contains approximately 40,000 square feet of leaseable floor area not including the courtyard or subterranean storage areas. At least a third of the space is used for offices while the remaining area is general and specialty retail stores, restaurants and personal improvement uses. The site provides approximately 165 parking spaces when accounting for the two loading zone spaces that have been removed. The site in general is over parked given the parking standards that were in place at the time the individual uses were established. The proposed restaurant addition of approximately 660 square feet of support area and 945 square feet of dining area, including 555 square feet of outside dining area, would bring the amount of code-required parking to 158 spaces. Courtyard seating area is available to all patrons and not specifically associated with any particular use. Except for Il Forno Café, with its incidental service to patrons at tables and chairs adjacent to the restaurant, no other use provides outdoor service. Because these seats are available to the patrons of the site, whether dining or not, and since food and beverage service is not offered at the tables, this seating area does not require additional parking. However, the 555 square feet of outdoor dining area does contribute to the parcel’s floor area ratio. The current floor area ratio for the subject parcel is 40% of the lot area, or 26,400 square feet. Since the existing building exceeds the permitted ratio, no new floor area, including outdoor area used by a commercial tenant, may be permitted. Therefore, 55 of the requested 165 seats may not be permitted. In terms of required parking, seven fewer spaces would be required.
Staff supports the applicant’s community outreach efforts to provide an opportunity for interested residents to consider the project prior to submittal and the goals to enhance the pedestrian-oriented nature of the courtyard. Proximity to residential neighborhoods, the various types of commercial uses and the Santa Monica Business Park, along with recent street improvements along Ocean Park Boulevard, are components that contribute to the walkability of the general area and the subject property in particular. Nevertheless, the existing uses and improvements do generate vehicle trips, which would be redistributed with the closure of the Ocean Park Boulevard driveway and a new Thirtieth Street driveway. To further analyze traffic patterns and determine whether the project would result in a significant environmental impact, staff required the preparation of a traffic study. The study is included with this report as Attachment B.
The proposed project will not result in an increase to the number of trips being generated at the subject property, but it will redistribute the pattern of vehicular movement. As detailed in the traffic study, the City’s threshold of significance, which determines whether a street segment or intersection is significantly impacted, is not exceeded with the proposed project. Therefore, there is no environmental impact associated with the project. Notwithstanding this environmental determination, the project would increase the average daily traffic on Thirtieth Street between Ocean Park Boulevard and Pearl Street by 200 trips, or 19.3% when compared to existing traffic conditions (a 25% increase would be considered environmentally significant). Twenty Ninth Street would see a decrease of 200 average daily trips, or a negative 9.1% change. Based on the originally approved driveway configuration, prohibiting egress from Twenty Ninth Street, there would be 44 fewer average daily trips occurring between the driveway and Pearl Street.
While there may be some appeal to have Thirtieth Street share the distribution of vehicular trips generated by the project site, staff does not believe this approach is justifiable. When the City first considered the proposed commercial development in the mid-1980s, a determination was made to deliberately limit the intrusion of commercial traffic caused by the development northward along Twenty Ninth and Thirtieth Streets. The Planning Commission reaffirmed this determination in 1989. The expectation of commercial traffic distribution associated with the development was established then for the commercial center and area residents. Long and short term residents as well as subsequent owners of the commercial center understood the traffic restrictions.
While staff recognizes the potential conflict between motorists and pedestrians any time a vehicle crosses a pedestrian walkway, this situation is not unique to the subject property. The applicant’s concern regarding increased traffic along Ocean Park Boulevard and traffic volume speeds are concerns expressed throughout the City. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that the driveway at Ocean Park Boulevard is dangerous. The driveway provides mid-block access to a multiple use development through one driveway, which also conforms to current driveway standards. To help facilitate on-site circulation, the applicant could improve visibility by relocating existing signage, modifying planters and landscaping, directing pedestrian traffic crossing the driveway to areas further away from Ocean Park Boulevard, improving warning and directional signage, and hiring personnel to ensure vehicles do not park on the driveway. The owner can also instruct tenants to make arrangements for deliveries during non-peak hours and at designated loading zones. Implementation of these and/or other measures may serve to address the applicant’s safety concerns without diverting commercial traffic toward the residential neighborhoods.
As with prior determinations for a Thirtieth Street driveway, staff believes Circulation Objective 4.2 and Policy 4.2.3 of the General Plan preclude approval of the proposed project. Objective 4.2 aims to protect the environment on local residential streets by minimizing the intrusion of vehicular traffic and parking into residential neighborhoods. Both Twenty Ninth and Thirtieth Streets are classified as local residential streets, which are intended to carry less than 2,500 vehicle trips per day. While the average daily traffic threshold is not exceeded, permitting ingress and egress opportunities would increase commercial traffic by 44 trips on Twenty Ninth Street and 156 trips on Thirtieth Street, compared to previously approved – not currently operated, driveway restrictions.
Policy 4.2.3 discourages the utilization of local residential streets for access to developments or parking lots by requiring commercial access points, driveways, to be located in a manner as to limit this possibility. Since it can be seen with certainty that a Thirtieth Street driveway will result in an increase in commercial traffic beyond what is currently experienced, staff believes the proposed driveway access requests should be denied and the site restored to its prior driveway restrictions. This action will serve to also limit the number of vehicles utilizing Twenty Ninth Street as originally intended.
With regard to the proposed Text Amendment and Conditional Use Permit, staff believes this component of the application should similarly be denied. The intent of the Neighborhood Commercial district is to protect and enhance neighborhood commercial areas by promoting the concentration of businesses that provide convenience goods and services used frequently by local residents. Regulations have been established that maintain a scale and character of development that is consistent with pedestrian-orientation and which tend to attract and promote a walk-in clientele. At 115 seats, staff believes an alcohol serving restaurant serves a broader regional population as opposed to the local residents encouraged in the Zoning Ordinance and the Land Use Element of the General Plan. The proposed amendment for restaurant seating exceeding 50 seats is similar to language that currently exists for the Main Street Special Commercial (CM) and Highway Commercial (C4) districts, which are higher intensity, regional serving districts. The proximity to single family residences is not conducive to this type of use. While it may be the case that the existing tenant has been respectful of area residents, the assurance that this relationship would continue with a different restaurant owner cannot be guaranteed. Although conditions could be imposed to limit the operational characteristics of the use, the popularity of a restaurant and the actions of its patrons, particularly if alcohol is being served, is less predictable and could further exacerbate commercial intrusions into a quiet residential area. Staff believes the number of seats proposed is not consistent with the Neighborhood Commercial district and could be detrimental to adjacent residential neighborhoods.
Staff has received a considerable amount of correspondence associated with this project, including petitions submitted by the applicant and area residents expressing support and opposition, respectively. At the time this report was prepared, 55 preprinted and stamped postcards were received expressing support for the project. Residents located in the R1 district near the project site submitted seven of the postcards; three were from residents located on Twenty Ninth Street. The letters in support argue that the proposed project would improve traffic conditions and enhance the pedestrian-oriented nature of the commercial center. Opposition letters describe existing traffic problems with passenger cars and delivery trucks associated with the commercial center, and express concern that these issues would be further exacerbated by the proposed project, deteriorating the safety and quality of life of the residential neighborhood. More detailed remarks are provided in the letters, which have been included with this report as Attachment C.
The applicant has noted concerns regarding vehicular and pedestrian safety at the subject property associated with a driveway that bisects the parcel from Ocean Park Boulevard to a surface parking lot. The applicant proposes to eliminate the Ocean Park Boulevard driveway and create a new driveway at Thirtieth Street. The area currently occupied by the driveway would be converted to a pedestrian-oriented courtyard with improved landscaping, lighting, seating and other amenities. Vehicular access would be provided with two-way traffic driveways at Twenty Ninth and Thirtieth Streets. The request requires an amendment to an existing Development Review Permit. The applicant also requests approval of a Text Amendment and Conditional Use Permit for the continued operation of an illegally expanded restaurant. Staff has evaluated the requests and concludes that the driveway modifications would redistribute commercial traffic toward the adjacent single family residential neighborhood and the text amendment is not consistent with the City’s Zoning Ordinance or General Plan.
Other than the recommended action, the Planning Commission may:
Deny Development Review Permit 03DR005, Text Amendment 04TA004, and Conditional Use Permit 04CUP008 with or without prejudice, based upon revised findings; or
Deny Development Review Permit 03DR005 and Approve Text Amendment 04TA004, and Conditional Use Permit 04CUP008 based upon revised findings with the incorporation of conditions; or
Approve Development Review Permit 03DR005 based on revised findings and incorporation of conditions, and Deny Text Amendment 04TA004, and Conditional Use Permit 04CUP008; or
Approve Development Review Permit 03DR005, Text Amendment 04TA004, and Conditional Use Permit 04CUP008, based upon revised findings with the incorporation of conditions.
It is recommended that the Planning Commission deny all of the requested entitlements.
DEVELOPMENT REVIEW FINDINGS
1. The project is not generally consistent with the Municipal Code and General Plan. Specifically, the proposed request to remove the Ocean Park Boulevard driveway and established a two-way driveway at Thirtieth Street, while expanding egress opportunities at Twenty Ninth Street would redistribute average daily traffic originating from or going to the subject property. This redistribution would increase the average daily traffic on Twenty Ninth Street between Ocean Park Boulevard and Pearl Street by 44 trips. Similarly, Thirtieth Street would experience an increase of 156 average daily trips. The redistribution of commercial traffic on a local residential street is inconsistent with Circulation Element Objective 4.2 and Policy 4.2.3 of the General Plan. Objective 4.2 aims to protect the environment on local residential streets by minimizing the intrusion of vehicular traffic and parking into residential neighborhoods. Policy 4.2.3 discourages the utilization of local residential streets for access to developments or parking lots by requiring commercial access points, to be located in a manner as to limit this possibility. Since it can be seen with certainty that a Thirtieth Street driveway will result in an increase in commercial traffic beyond what is currently experienced, the proposed project is not consistent with the General Plan.
TEXT AMENDMENT FINDINGS
1. The proposed amendment is not consistent in principle with the goals, objectives, policies, land uses, and programs specified in the General Plan. Specifically, the request to conditionally allow restaurants with more than 50 seats in the C2 District is not consistent with Objective 1.7 of the Land Use Element of the General Plan in that it does not serve to protect and expand uses that provide for the day-to-day shopping and service needs of nearby residents. The request shifts the focus of the restaurant to a larger regional serving use as opposed to a neighborhood serving use required by the General Plan and Zoning Ordinance. A regional serving restaurant has the potential to further exacerbate commercial intrusions into the adjacent single family residential district, contributing to a deleterious residential environment.
CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT FINDINGS
1. The proposed use is not conditionally permitted within the subject district and does not comply with all of the applicable provisions of the "City of Santa Monica Comprehensive Land Use and Zoning Ordinance". Specifically, the Conditional Use Permit application was filed in conjunction with a text amendment to conditionally permit restaurants with more than 50 seats in the C2 district. The Planning Commission denied the text amendment. The provision to allow restaurants with more than 50 seats is not a permitted or conditionally permitted use in the district and, therefore, not compliant with the City’s Zoning Ordinance.
Prepared by: Jonathan Lait, AICP, Acting Principal Planner
A. Site Posting Photo, Notice of Public Hearing, Radius Map
D. Project Plans and Photographs