The Santa Monica City Council recently held a study session regarding the use of development agreements in the city, reports the Santa Monica Mirror. Development agreements allow developers more flexibility (e.g., zoning variances) in exchange for community benefits (e.g., public transportation investments). A local example is the development agreement for the Fifth and Arizona project (pictured above), which will require the developer to provide open space and public parking. Since Santa Monica's Land Use and Mobility Element went into effect in 2010, "there are more than a dozen projected or active DAs in Santa Monica, with six of them being approved after the LUCE was implemented nearly two years ago." As for the community benefits, the LUCE established five tiers to guide the use of development agreements: affordable/workforce housing; Greenhouse Gas emission and congestion reduction; community physical improvements, such as open spaces, streetscapes, etc.; social, cultural, and educational facilities; and historic preservation.
According to the city staff report (pdf), the recent study session was scheduled to define "an approach to evaluating community benefits in development agreements on LUCE goals and policies and some key questions for the Council to consider in project evaluation." The discussion, however, pitted developers who think community benefits are too costly against city officials who want developers to do more. According to the SMM, Paul Silvern from HR&A hinted that if community benefits get too outrageous, developers might look to do business in other cities. On the other side, Councilmember Bobby Shriver claimed that developers are reluctant to seek DAs: "We've been clawing to get items." The final result of the hearing: "Council members and staff will look more closely into clearly defining what, exactly, is a community benefit."
Development agreements are not to be confused with the transportation mitigation fee currently being explored by Santa Monica. The TIMF is a mandatory fee for all developments--the fee only changes depending on the neighborhood and the type of development. Development agreements are only necessary if the developer is looking to build above and beyond the restrictions of the zoning code, which means they can also act as a bargaining chip.
· City Hall May Seek More Benefits From Developers [SMM]
· Development Agreements and Community Benefits Study Session [Santa Monica City Council Report]