December 8, 2022
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Business-friendly zoning changes are here to stay

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If you enjoy dining at food halls or ordering cocktails for take-out, you are in luck. The City of Santa Monica has formally amended local rules to allow these and other pandemic-era zoning changes to stay in effect long term.

The move came days after the city caused a stir earlier this month as businesses were told they must begin phasing in new, permanent parklet programs (complete with fees and permit requirements) or close up their lucrative outdoor areas. In response, about 70 businesses chose to begin the process of turning their temporary parklets permanent.

Parklet rules shifting and other zoning ordinance changes signal a citywide push to codify zoning changes that will allow parklets and other pandemic-era business rules to remain in place permanently. That means many of the temporary changes enacted in a rush during the early days of COVID-19 will be allowed to remain, including relaxed alcohol service regulations and parking requirements, the removal of per-block restaurant caps on Main Street, permitting multi-use food halls on the Third Street Promenade, and more.

The changes are designed to “support the goals of creating a more vibrant experience through increased opportunities for nightlife, entertainment, and flexibility to experiment with different uses,” according to information provided by a City spokesperson.

Not all of the code changes are as flashy as allowing cocktails on to-go menus, but city staff said they hope the changes will support businesses continuing to rebound from the COVID downturn.

One example is the removal of the one-year abandonment period for a legal, non-conforming restaurant or retail use. Say you want to open a sushi restaurant in a storefront that used to be a sushi restaurant that closed six months ago — you could open up shop there with little difficulty. However, under previous rules, if it had been a year or longer, you would need to start from scratch ticking off a long list of permits before you could be cleared to open, including the possibility of public hearings if you’re requesting any variances such as parking minimums.

The new rules wipe away the one-year limit.

“This eliminates the one-year abandonment period currently in the code and also allows for these types of uses and businesses to reoccupy vacant tenant spaces of the same use, no matter how long it’s been vacant for, provided that no other use has occupied that vacant space since the restaurant or the retail,” Associate Planner Steve Mizokami said during the Tuesday, Oct. 11, Santa Monica City Council meeting. “So, essentially, this eliminates the need for new land use entitlements or meeting parking requirements for what is essentially the same use as the previous.”

On the topic of parking, another citywide rule change increases the “change of use parking relief from 3 to 10 spaces,” meaning that if you are leasing a space with permits for four parking spaces but your new business would need nine to meet code, the City would still permit you to open since the “change of use” requires fewer than 10 additional spaces. Outdoor spaces are now also exempt from parking calculations for change of use.

Reduced restrictions on restaurant size include the addition of multi-tenant food halls as a conditionally permitted use and restaurants up to 5,000 square feet as a by-right use. Rules also now allow food halls to operate on the Promenade, as well as light industry.

When it comes to alcohol regulations, service hours have been expanded, now going from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. citywide seven days a week; restrictions on TVs and video projectors have been lifted, as well as the cap on alcohol sales making up 35% of gross revenue. Delivery and take-out of alcohol is now permanently codified citywide. 

emily@smdp.com



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