Monday, July 14, 2008

Council to take up CVR project


The battle over what many view as the gateway to Montecito and Coast Village Road begins anew tomorrow when city leaders consider a proposal to replace an aging gas station at Coast Village and Olive Mill roads with eight condos and commercial space.

Although approved in mid-March by the Planning Commission, the project has been appealed to the Santa Barbara City Council by a citizens group known as Save Coast Village Road, as well as a neighboring property owner.
Situated at the western end of the roadway, at 1298 Coast Village Rd., the project site has frequently been characterized as the entryway to the stretch of shops, restaurants and offices, and the community of Montecito.
As a result, the proposal to destroy the existing gas station and construct a 17,270 square-foot building with eight two-story condos and 5,000 square feet of commercial space has fueled a fervent debate in the community ever since the developer submitted his initial plans in 2004.
During a three-hour public comment session in March, the Planning Commission witnessed an outpouring of sentiment from citizens — they received more than 75 requests to speak.
Those opposed, many nearby neighbors or Montecito residents, called the project a behemoth that is out of step with other structures along Coast Village Road.
Supporters heralded the proposal to replace a gas station they view as rundown and unsightly with a building they called architecturally first-rate and appropriately sized.
The Planning Commission ultimately fell in favor of the development a week later on a 3-1 vote, giving the green light to all but one of four requested building modifications.
Chairman George Myers split from his colleagues — Commissioners John Jostes, Stella Larson and Addison Thompson — citing concerns with the bulk of the proposed building. The remaining three commissioners recused themselves due to connections with the developer.
With the decision now resting with the City Council, associate planner Peter Lawson recommended denying the appeals and upholding the project.
“Staff recognizes that the project site is an important corner of Coast Village Road and a gateway into the city and neighborhood,” he wrote in an agenda report. “The design of the project needs to be sensitive to aesthetics, traffic and neighborhood compatibility.”
To that point, Lawson highlighted underground parking, the elimination of driveways along Coast Village Road, and landscaping and pedestrian amenities as laudable aspects of the project.
In its appeal, however, the citizens group Save Coast Village Road cited concerns over traffic impacts, compatibility with the neighborhood, added strain to the Montecito water supply and impacts to mountain views, among other issues.
Neighbors to the north, John and Sandy Wallace, also filed an appeal citing incompatibility with neighboring structures and an adverse impact to their single-story home.
“This proposed building should not be allowed to be too tall, too close and dwarf our 11-foot-tall home a mere 10 feet away,” they stated in the appeal letter. “This project should respect and marry the adjacent neighborhood, in all directions, with a maximum two-story building and no northern modification allowed.”
In Lawson’s agenda report, staff said the project would decrease the number of traffic trips and only require a nominal increase in water usage. As far as the bulk of the building, Lawson noted the overall height of the proposed building is 35 feet with a tower stretching to 39 feet — both below the allowed height of 45 feet.
“In both the staff report and in the initial study, staff acknowledged that the project would reduce some views of the mountains,” Lawson continued. “However, staff concluded that the potential visual impacts are not significant because the project is not within the vicinity of public gathering places, such as parks, beaches or plazas, which are usually considered public vantage points.”
In order to uphold the project, the council will have to agree with the Planning Commission that three zoning modifications are appropriate.
Along the rear portion of the property, which abuts the Wallace residence, the developer is requesting a modification to allow storage space on the first floor and portions of a condo unit on the second floor to extend into the required setback space.
During the Planning Commission hearting, Lawson said he supports the alteration due to the fact that the majority of the northern edge of the building meets or exceeds the setback standard, windows are minimal, and balconies are oriented away from the neighboring residence.
The second modification would allow a second-story balcony on the south-facing wall of the project, along Coast Village Road, to jut out into the required 10-foot setback. Had it not been a covered balcony, it would not require a modification, but Lawson explained that the overhang provides articulation and architectural interest.
The final modification would allow the developer to locate the required 10 percent of open space on the second floor of the building in a central courtyard.
The council will meet tomorrow at 2 p.m. and hear the appeal immediately following its administrative agenda.

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