Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Council majority seeks middle ground on CVR project


With community members sharply divided on a proposal to replace an aging gas station on Coast Village Road with eight condos and commercial space, a majority of the Santa Barbara City Council sought a happy medium to divergent viewpoints.
On a 4-3 vote, leaders upheld earlier approvals of the project but sent it along to the city’s design board to work on reducing its bulky appearance.

“The design is attractive, creative and I think it fits with the community,” Councilmember Roger Horton said. “For me, however, in being out there many days and looking at it in many different angles … I would like to see the project at a lesser bulk.”
Since initially presented in 2004, the proposal to destroy a gas station at the corner of Coast Village and Olive Mill roads in order to build a 17,270 square-foot, mixed-use building has provoked fervent criticism from some and unrestrained praise from others.
Its location is commonly heralded as the gateway to Montecito and the stretch of shops, restaurants and offices — a sentiment frequently invoked during lengthy public comment sessions at prior city hearings and Tuesday's evening’s council meeting.
Of large concern to opponents, including a group known as Save Coast Village Road and the property owners immediately north of the project site, are the dimensions of the proposed building.
“The primary issue is the size, bulk and scale,” said Derek Westin, an attorney representing the citizens group. While noting that the architecture is attractive, he added, “There’s just too much of it.”
A portion of public speakers joined that chorus, citing concerns about its bulk and height, compatibility with neighboring residences, potential traffic impacts and strain on water resources.
Some called it a monstrosity, a disfigurement to the city and a trigger for future “canyon-ization” of Coast Village Road.
But the majority, approximately three-quarters of the more than 100 community members who submitted speaker slips, said the proposed building would fit beautifully along the roadway, have a negligible impact on the water supply, provide an economic boost, and sit well below the allowable building height.
“This would be the shortest three-story building proposed in Santa Barbara,” said Jeff Gorrell, the project’s architect.
As proposed, the building stands at 35 and a half feet, with several projections stretching a few feet higher. Zoning allows for a maximum height of 45 feet at that location.
Height remained a critical issue for some city leaders, including Councilmember Iya Falcone, who cast a dissenting vote along with Mayor Marty Blum and Councilmember Dale Francisco.
“For me, it’s just too big,” Falcone said. “I can’t go for the third story.”
Those who voted in favor of the project seemed content to let the Architectural Board of Review to tackle that issue.
“Is just chopping off the third story the answer?” Councilmember Helene Schneider asked. “I don’t think so.”
While split on the merits of a third story, the council appeared largely in consensus on another issue — a requested modification on the northern edge of the building to allow a two-story section to protrude into the required setback.
After Gorrell mentioned willingness to eliminate the second-floor portion of that modification, city leaders voiced their support for such a move.
“I have a problem with the rear-yard encroachment,” Francisco said. “…I agree that it’s largely compatible with the commercial side, but I’m worried about the residential side.”
The owners of the single-story home to the north of the project also had concerns about a three-story building going up next door.
John Wallace cited problems with the project’s single proposed access point, a two-way driveway along the northern border of the property that he termed a “commercial roadway.”
But a more significant issue, he stressed, is the importance of maintaining a residential buffer between the proposed building and his property.
“I believe the applicant owes me a buffer,” Wallace said. “And a buffer is something that transitions and marries the neighborhood.”
City planner Peter Lawson, however, said rezoning a 50-foot segment of land along the northern edge of the project site currently designated as residential would merely fit with the city’s General Plan and present commercial use of the property.
“We’re not looking at an existing residential development being removed and a commercial development being put in its place,” he said.
While unanimously approving the rezone, the council majority deferred a decision on how exactly to solve the issue of neighborhood compatibility, instead directing the ABR to place an emphasis on resolving the project’s impact on the Olive Mill Road neighborhood.
Falcone and Mayor Blum said the possibility that the building might remain at three stories prevented them from giving it a nod of approval.
“It is just a little bit too big for that corner,” the mayor said. “It’s bulky. I’m struggling with that third story.”
Francisco, however, took issue with another condition of approval backed strongly by Councilmembers Schneider, Das Williams and Grant House.
While the city has yet to finalize changes to its inclusionary housing ordinance — which in essence requires developers to provide affordable units or pay into a city housing fund — Williams asked that the project be held to those standards by paying $17,000 per unit toward the development of affordable housing stock.
Representatives of developer John Price quickly agreed to such a proposition, but Francisco met the concept with great hesitation.
“That sounds like borderline extortion,” he said, explaining that holding a developer to a nonexistent city policy is troubling at best.
Nonetheless, with a majority vote, the project is off to the city’s design board for more tinkering on its apparent bulkiness and neighborhood compatibility. If the ABR grants preliminary approval to the project, that decision can be appealed back to the council for further discussion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How is it that a political sign as depicted in your article is allowed/permitted to be attached by private individuals to a road sign support that belongs to the government - which means you and me!

Temperance in Montecito