Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coast Village project gets go-ahead


After a week of mulling over project details and hours of public testimony, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission voted 3-1 on Thursday to approve a highly contentious condo development on Coast Village Road.
Although the commissioners heard presentations and three hours of public input last week on the proposal to replace an aging gas station at Coast Village and Olive Mill roads with eight condos and commercial space, they had tabled their deliberations until Thursday.

Commissioners John Jostes, Stella Larson and Addison Thompson gave the green light to much of the project, denying one of four requested building modifications.
“Once it’s built, folks are gonna love it,” Larson said. “I think it’s going to be great for Coast Village Road.”
Chairman George Myers cast the lone dissenting vote, citing concerns with the bulk of the proposed building along the eastern elevation. Commissioners Bruce Bartlett, Charmaine Jacobs and Harwood White recused themselves from the vote due to ties with the developer.
Larson said she had no problem with any of the requested modifications, including those allowing a section of the building to extend into the northern setback toward a single-family residence, and an emergency stairway to bulge into the eastern setback.
“I find this project to be very approvable,” she said. “I think it’s a great project for the site.”
While Jostes and Thompson expressed some concern about modification to the northern setback, they sided with a motion to approve the project and deny the stairway modification along Olive Mill Road.
“There is insufficient justification to say it is necessary,” Thompson said of the proposed stairway, which would jut nearly all of the way into the setback at one point. “I think we need to take a look at the Olive Mill side and see if we can’t pull back.”
In giving his views on the project, Myers described many aspects as commendable, such as “wonderful landscaping” and architecture that “blends in with the character of Montecito.”
However, he also expressed concerns about the emergency stairway and called the eastern edge of the building “too massive” for its location. He said he would favor a fourth story toward the center of the project if it allowed the design to be pulled back more from Olive Mill Road.
A week ago, roughly half of those who spoke during the public comment period —particularly those apprehensive about a development at what they consider the gateway to both Coast Village Road and Montecito — had concerns with the size of the project as well, calling it out of character with the neighborhood.
“We’re very disappointed that they did not pay more attention to the concerns of the Montecito community,” Derek Westen, an attorney representing the neighbors directly to the north of the project site, said immediately following the Planning Commission’s decision.
While he had yet to speak with his clients, Westen said he assumes the project will be appealed to City Council. He also noted that the commission did not appear to have majority support for the northern setback modification.
Jeff Gorrell, an architect with Lenvik & Minor Architects who designed the project, said the commission took a thoughtful approach to their decision, weighing community concerns with the project benefits.
“They’re looking at things from a logical perspective and they recognize the very good things about the project,” he said. “…The biggest thing is underground parking. This is probably the smallest project in Santa Barbara that has done mainly underground parking.”
In order to offset that expensive undertaking and make the project financially viable, Gorrell said the building had to jump to three stories. He also noted that coming in at 35 and a half feet, the proposed development is one of the lowest three-story buildings in the area.
Although he said he feels good about the commission’s vote, he did characterize their decision to deny the stairway modification as unfortunate.
“It creates a complication and it could possibly lead to losing a car space in the basement,” he said, explaining that pushing in the stairway from the second story will impact another stairway from the basement level.
With the project slated to come before the City Council for a rezoning approval and then the Architectural Board of Review for tinkering — although that could be sidetracked by an appeal — the developer, John Price, said he remains committed to working with concerned community members.
“I’ve always been willing to sit and talk with the community,” he said. “…My invitation to the community is still out there.”
He said those apprehensive about the project should visit his website,, to learn more and send him an email.
A group of concerned citizens, many who spoke out against the proposal last week, also put together a website,, to put forth their views.
Since initial planning for the project began four years ago, when he approached the city with his idea, Price said he has been sensitive to the fact that many see the project site a gateway.
“It’s a great corner and I think I’m doing the right thing.”

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