Water Garden Project Gets Council Approval in Early-Morning Vote

Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica City Council members gave preliminary approval early Wednesday to the massive Water Garden office complex despite questions from residents about the developer's plans to ease traffic.

City staff members continued making changes in the 32-page agreement on the $250-million development until 2 a.m. before the council approved it on a 5-2 vote. A final vote is scheduled for next month.

The developer, Jerome H. Snyder, founder of Los Angeles-based J. H. Snyder II Co., plans four buildings of as many as six stories around an artificial lake "the size of two football fields."

The complex will be built on a 17 acres bounded by Colorado Avenue, Olympic and Cloverfield boulevards and 26th Street. It will include offices, a health club, restaurants and retail stores.

The project has almost as much square footage as Southmark Pacific Corp.'s Colorado Place, under construction across the street from the Water Garden site.

The proximity of the two developments has alarmed neighbors over traffic congestion and parking.

To gain the support of residents, Snyder went on a door-to-door handshaking campaign and met with several community groups. He has promised a series of measures to try to reduce traffic--an effort hailed as "exemplary" by several council members.

"You've done a hell of a P.R. job . . . going to the neighborhoods," Councilman Herb Katz told Snyder at the council meeting.

Under the agreement, Snyder will pay the city $6.4 million in traffic improvement fees and $7.2 million toward housing and parks. About $3.5 million is due within six months.

He agreed to build 200 parking spaces at nearby Santa Monica College and to pay to widen Cloverfield Boulevard and the Cloverfield off-ramp from the westbound Santa Monica Freeway.

'A Quality Project'

Snyder promised to promote ride-sharing programs and to subsidize the cost of transit passes for some employees. Under the agreement, he will be charged an annual penalty of up to $200,000 if the traffic measures fail.

He agreed to build a child care center with room for 60 children, to include sewage treatment facilities in the project and to give $300,000 to a homeless shelter in Santa Monica and donate $150,000 for art.

"This is a quality project, the kind we want for Santa Monica," Mayor James Conn said. "It provides an opportunity for creating a model for traffic management."

"We are very proud of the project," Snyder said.

Council members Dennis Zane and David Finkel voted against the project.

"It's simple: Too much traffic," Zane said. "It's too much for the neighborhoods to accept and for the city to live with."

Officials noted differences between the Water Garden project and Southmark's Colorado Place, in an apparent effort to avert the protest that dogged that agreement.

Parade of Opponents

But not everyone was convinced, as evidenced by a parade of people who spoke before the council to register opposition to the project.

"What if it doesn't work?" Pico Neighbors Assn. member Dianne Glinos said of the traffic abatement plan. "Then we'll be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Or, rather, between a freeway and gridlock."

But another member of the same group, Stan Gilbert, praised Snyder for being "on the cutting edge" of how developers and communities must work together on development.

In addition to the money it will receive in mitigation fees, the city has estimated that Water Garden will generate $1.2 million in annual revenue for Santa Monica and create 5,000 jobs.

Although the Planning Commission in December gave Snyder's proposal unanimous approval, the council and city staff incorporated some restrictions to down-scale the project and reduce traffic.

Reduction in Size

The version that passed the council reduced the project's size from about 1.4 million square feet to 1.26 million square feet.

Acting on a recommendation from Katz, the council reduced from 75,000 square feet to 20,000 the amount of space that can be dedicated to medical offices. That will reduce the number of car trips, Katz said.

Guidelines for how many parking spaces Snyder can construct were based on what he called a "floating ratio" that council members also hoped would discourage traffic to the site.

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