The Goleta City Council seemingly had two plans to choose from Tuesday night for the Rincon Palms Hotel and Conference Center, but chose to postpone a decision and work with the developer to design a third version of the project.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, council members all agreed that there should be a hotel at that site — which is outlined in the General Plan — but want to make sure the hotel is appropriate and beneficial to Goleta.
The issue will be discussed in a public hearing by the Economic Development Committee and then come back to the City Council on Oct. 1.
A version of the project was approved in 2008, but applicant Kip Bradley of Daketta Pacific property management has been revising plans to include meeting space since a city consultant report identified the need for it within Goleta.
The original, approved project at 6868 Hollister Ave. had 112 rooms and a stand-alone restaurant on the property. The revised project, which has drawn concerns from residents because of the larger size and therefore bigger visual impacts, would be a Hilton Garden Inn with 149 rooms and 5,440 square feet of meeting space.
At the beginning of the meeting, Bradley told the council that the decision was really about which project to move forward, since he could theoretically pull permits and start construction right away on the original plans.
“Tonight is not a question of ‘if,’ if we’re going to build the project, because one of these two projects — the approved project or the one before you tonight — is going to get built,” he said.
It may not work out that way, since the council voted to postpone a decision on the site plans and have the Economic Development Committee work with Bradley’s team to develop an alternative design that the council members prefer.
Bradley was amenable to more collaboration, but reminded the city that his team has been working on the conference center component for two years because the city pointed out it was a need. He said all of the meetings and review so far of the revised plan had unanimous approvals, including from the Design Review Board and Planning Commission.
He asked for more specific direction in the future so they weren’t “designing in the dark” only to be met with more disapproval.
Council members did certify the revised plan’s environmental impact report at Tuesday’s meeting.
The EIR shows that the changes would mean fewer traffic and air quality impacts — since a restaurant would generate more trips than more hotel rooms — but more aesthetic impacts, according to Public Works Director Steve Wagner.
“With the revised project, the sense of the mountains behind the urban area would be largely lost, as almost none of the mountain range would be visible behind the building as viewed from Hollister Avenue,” the staff report says.
The buildings are about the same height, but they’re placed 60 feet closer to the street and therefore appear taller, planner Jan Hubell said.
The project is expected to add 1,217 average daily trips and obstruct the view from Hollister Avenue, according to plans.
Some did speak in support of the revised plan with meeting space, since there aren’t many options in town.
Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Kristen Miller said the city needs more hotel rooms and conference space, and the proposed plans fulfill those needs. Local businesses need places to host trainings, client meetings or other large events, she noted, and the lack of options makes business travelers go to other areas or cut the visit short.
Councilman Michael Bennett said it doesn’t have enough space to call it a conference center.
“It has one large banquet room that can hold 200 people. That’s it," he said. "It’s not a conference center.”
Tuesday's meeting also showed off the city's remodeled Council Chambers. The council decided to redesign the leased space since a new City Hall won't be acquired anytime soon. The wood-paneled dais for council members and staff offered a change from the previous surgical curtains lining the walls and a folding table dais with a blue cloth stapled to it.
City leaders had been using it since incorporation 11 years ago.
The one awkward fixture from the past that remains is the white pole in the middle of the room near the podium, which can’t be removed for structural reasons. When the council discussed a remodel plan in 2011, Mayor Roger Aceves said he was frustrated that it couldn’t be removed, adding that it would drive him crazy forever.