Art Requirements – The Tinkering Continues

As we reported a number of months ago, changes are in the works for the Planning Code’s Downtown Artwork requirements. Over the last two decades, this program has been extremely successful in bringing public art to private developments downtown. As originally conceived, one percent (1%) of the construction cost of any new downtown building or significant addition was required to be spent on original commissioned artwork. This artwork was required to be publicly accessible, and can be seen throughout the downtown area in the various privately owned public open spaces (POPOS) and many publicly accessible downtown office lobbies. We believe that much of the success of this program was derived from its simplicity: it required developers to spend a significant yet easily determinable sum on brand new artwork and place it in their building for the benefit of the public. While the Planning Department produced a series of guidelines to ensure that the public got art, and not things like architectural features to buildings or fancy outdoor seating, the program has worked exceedingly well by simply letting the various property owners bring art to the public in a manner they chose.

Last year we reported on coming changes to the Art Program. These changes would have included adding a layer of review and approval by the City’s Art Commission. As we discussed last year, we did not see the need for Art Commission oversight in what was a clearly successful program. It was a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The legislation also created an option where a developer could satisfy the art requirement by simply paying the required fee that would have been spent on onsite art to an Art Commission fund.

Sponsors of this ordinance have reconsidered and an amended ordinance is making its way through the process now. The requirement for Art Commission review of art installations required by the ordinance has been removed. The original option to comply by providing onsite public artwork remains. And the option of payment of an equivalent public art fee to an art trust fund will now also be available. The ordinance also extends the reach of the art requirement to non-residential projects in a variety of other zoning districts throughout the City, including many of the new Eastern Neighborhood zoning districts (such as UMU and MUO), as well as all of the new DTR districts and RC-3 and RC-4 districts (much of Van Ness Avenue is zoned RC-4). The expansion of the program to these other zoning districts will not take effect until January 1, 2013. The “trigger” will remain the construction of a new building or addition of floor area in excess of 25,000 square feet.

There are a number of other technical provisions that deal with various types of residential and non-residential projects. Please let us know if you’d like to see a copy of the ordinance.

We are happy to see that the core of the original ordinance will be retained allowing downtown developers to maintain control of their art installations. It will be interesting to see the effect of the program when it is spread to other zoning districts throughout the City and how much art will actually be created there, or whether smaller developers will choose to contribute to the art fund. Like the original ordinance, it will probably take a decade or more to see if it worked. Earlier the matter was as the Land Use Committee, and was continued to later in March. We will continue to track this legislation.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben & Junius, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

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