The appeal of a mixed-use project on Milpas Street has turned into a sounding board on the issue of curb extensions, or “bulb-outs.”
In a rare event Thursday, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission gave input to staff regarding the project’s proposed changes in order to make a Substantial Conformance Determination.
The project, unanimously approved in November, has been appealed by Rick Feldman, who owns Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory at 1 S. Milpas St. Through discussions with the applicants, he narrowed his grievances to one: the inclusion of curb extensions on the corner of Milpas and De la Guerra streets.
The applicants, represented by Jarrett Gorin at Thursday’s meeting, compromised with Feldman and agreed to modify their proposal to pay $6,300 toward the city’s access ramp program in lieu of providing the curb extensions, to avoid a full appeal hearing in front of the City Council.
Gorin urged planning commissioners to center their comments on the specific project instead of turning the hearing into a broader referendum on the issue of bulb-outs. The widened sidewalks surrounding the corner project still provide the safety required under the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan, which doesn’t specifically require projects to include curb extensions, he said.
Feldman and Jim Westby spoke in favor of the revision, saying there isn’t evidence to support bulb-outs as an effective safety measure.
“I’m interested in anything that happens on Milpas Street,” Feldman said. Although there’s no official Milpas Street association anymore, he spoke with other interested parties and decided to vocalize opposition in the appeal.
The decision of whether the revisions substantially conform to the approved project will be made by Community Development Director Paul Casey, but the majority of the planning commissioners opposed the revisions.
Several residents also opposed the revisions, saying curb extensions have been shown to slow traffic and help pedestrian and cyclist safety, and are a significant part of the project’s proposal given the heavy traffic in the Milpas corridor area.
Commissioner Sheila Lodge was the only one who spoke in favor of the revisions, with Commissioners Mike Jordan, John Jostes and Deborah Schwartz speaking against the changed project. Commissioner Bruce Bartlett excused himself.
The sidewalk extensions were “the basis for at least some of us voting in favor of the project,” Jostes said.
Senior planner Danny Kato said projects “hardly ever” get a public hearing regarding changes, and that this was most likely only the second time in the past five years.
“It’s unfortunate that the whole issue is rising on the back of the project,” Kato said.
In the past, La Entrada and Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort have gone through the Substantial Conformance Determination process, Casey told Noozhawk after the meeting.
Jostes called the appeal frivolous and said the process creates a dangerous precedent.
Staff expect to follow the commission’s recommendation, and it’s likely Feldman will reinstate his appeal of the project to the City Council.
“I stand here with a bloody nose, given to me by the chair … but I’ll take the punch (and continue),” Feldman said after the meeting.
His appeal cited a lack of notification and issues with parking in addition to the curb extensions, but he said he is now satisfied — or at least resigned to — the rest of the project.
“I feel bad for the developers, that the project is held hostage for a while,” Feldman said.
He said he will discuss the issue with interested parties — fellow merchants and residents in the area — before deciding his plan of action.
The issue of curb extensions came into the public eye about five years ago, especially when the neighborhood improvement plans and Pedestrian Master Plan were adopted, Kato said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.