Design Standards – An Urban Dance and Who Chooses?

This is a follow up to our recent articles which discussed the effects of design on our environment, our culture, heritage and economy.  Santa Monica’s temperate beachfront environment attracts corporate and off-shore investment dollars that will continue to influence and dictate our future with the premium returns financing political campaigns! Why should we allow these external forces to shape our town and lifestyle? The resulting “mansionization” under current zoning is irrevocably changing the character of our neighborhoods and the soul of our city.

Our planning commission will be addressing some of these issues in the weeks immediately ahead and our small band of architects (SMa.r.t.) strongly encourages the following adoption of single family code requirements which we feel will allow more inspiring and diverse design while preserving our neighborhood character.

SITE COVERAGE: Building area not to exceed 50 percent of the site area, or 55 percent with a detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

FLOOR AREA: Total floor area not to exceed 50 percent of the site area, or 55 percent with a detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

(NOTE: under state law these percentages may have to be modified to produce this same result)

HEIGHT: 23 feet maximum for a flat roof or 28 feet to the ridge of a pitched roof, with no perimeter vertical wall higher than 23 feet to the eave edge

MASSING: A minimum 25 percent of the front elevation to be offset 10 feet from the required front yard setback

2nd FLOOR ROOF DECKS: Roof decks shall be setback a minimum of 10 feet from required front, side, and rear yard setbacks

BASEMENTS: Any space that qualifies as a basement under the current code is exempt from square foot area limitations and to be no more than 3 feet above existing grade at any point

SOLAR RIGHTS: In order to conform to Santa Monica’s solar ordinance which will go into effect  soon, a detailed solar access provision shall include house massing on the northwest and northeast sides with respect to hours of the day, orientation of the lot, relative topography of the adjacent property, and new landscape to be added

These simple guidelines should enable clients and designers to create varied solutions in stark contrast to the two-story boxes (generally “Cape Cod” or some other generic design) that are prevalent today.  The house diagrams illustrated here show plans that meet these site coverage, area, height and massing standards while being more than comfortable in both room count, size, and flexibility of design.

While these observations and recommendations address the single family residence, there is much to be said about applying an equal amount of revision to the multi-family and commercial standards.  The R3 multi-family zoning standards and the “development agreements” allowed are leading our city down a physical, visual, and non-sustainable asphalt paved, auto clogged path resulting in a city of 4, 5, and 6 story block buildings pleasing only to drones hovering overhead.

And we are seeing a disastrous negative impact on our downtown, and equally along the boulevards with proposed projects in the pipeline. Current development is driving small mom and pop stores out of the community and an increasing number of residents no longer shop or dine, or even go to movies downtown, opting instead for other nearby locations.

In summary, we desperately need to retain and encourage the casual beachfront lifestyle we enjoy in Santa Monica, one that fosters a sense of pride rather than allowing a bloated, developer inspired environment.  We are creating buildings with little if any sense of design and certainly without respect for either the residents living within or outside these faceless structures. We need to celebrate diversity, but instead we have moved from courtyard architecture to corporate architecture that is neither visually or spiritually meaningful.  It’s time to step up and speak up and help maintain the community we know and love, and to stop this continuous yielding to developer money and influence.

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow (a small tribe of seven, which includes six architects all practicing in Santa Monica with over 285 years of architectural and planning experience, one of whom is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and also includes the chair of the city’s Planning Commission, a Building & Safety Commissioner, an Arts Commissioner and former Chair of the Parks & Recreation Commission, a group totaling over 275 years of residency in the city)

Ron Goldman FAIA, Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission.  For previous articles see