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05.04.2011
Arrested Development
Santa Monica struggles to build new district around Bergamot Station.
A conceptual rendering of Santa Monica's pedestrian and transit-centered Bergamot Area Plan.
Urban Studio for City of Santa Monica

Santa Monica’s Bergamot Area Plan, which plots the course for a 140-acre mixed-use and transit-oriented creative district timed for the arrival of the Expo Line in 2015, is moving ahead after its passage in February. But the project, which branches north of the area’s Bergamot Station arts center, is already facing hurdles and controversies. One of its largest pieces, the Bergamot Transit Village, designed by Gensler and developed by Hines, was resoundingly sent back to the drawing board by Santa Monica City Council on March 22. Meanwhile the namesake for the district, Bergamot Station, seems to be in jeopardy as the city has thus far refused to grant it a lease extension.

The five-building 960,000-square-foot “village,” consisting of offices, residential and retail, would be located at the northwest portion of the Bergamot Area Plan, just north of  Bergamot Station. It’s the largest of a number of new projects planned for the once industrial area.

In turning back the project, city officials stated their desire for the development to be redesigned with greater variety of roof heights, a mix of styles, and a variety of visual elements, all to break up its “monolithic” feel, and make it a more pedestrian-oriented environment.

“There appears to be little attempt to create an interesting skyline,” said the city planning department’s staff report. “The Community has been clear that Bergamot Transit Village should feel, look, and function like a village.”

Two of the three parcels for the city's Bergamot area plan

At the meeting Hines Senior Vice President Colin Shepherd told the council that the firm would look at the comments they have received and “see how we could incorporate the majority of them.”

But the firm and the planning department seem to differ on their approaches to a “village.” One person involved with the project questioned the ability to break up the street wall on a short block into various buildings given code requirements.

In an interview with AN, Santa Monica Planning Director Eileen Fogerty said that besides creating different buildings, other options include “re-articulating the mass of the buildings, creating variation in the rooflines, and creating more public spaces.”

She didn’t seem worried about the pace of development.

“This is not something people do quickly or that there is a formula for. When people create successful places, there’s a lot of attention to detail and attention to creating a place that’s going to attract people,” she said.

Meanwhile Fogerty said that discussions about Bergamot Station— a favorite cultural destination in LA with its close to 50 galleries located on the site of a former Red Line trolley stop— will begin in about a month. The arts center has yet to be offered a new lease by the city. Its current lease runs out in 2015.

“We have no guarantee that we can continue here,” said Wayne Blank, Bergamot’s owner, who said he has already lost tenants who are worried about the complex’s future, and that he has been unable to move forward with updates because of the uncertainty.

The Santa Monica Museum, a major component of Bergamot Station

The santa Monica Museum of art, a major component of Bergamot station

“The longer this goes the scarier it gets for the current tenants,”he said. Blank conceded that once the light rail line comes through, the city could rent the area out for more than he can pay, but he noted that this would mean the loss of the cultural heart of the area.

“What the city doesn’t need is another mixed use project,” said Blank.

“The absolute goal of the whole planning effort is to keep the art galleries and keep that arts focus,” said Fogerty in response. “The next phase will be looking at how you do that in the long run in a way that works for everyone.”

Sam Lubell