The saga of the Miramar Hotel isn’t over yet.

The Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara County announced Friday that it is appealing the Montecito Planning Commission’s Oct. 8 approval of Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso’s plan to rebuild the long-abandoned hotel.

The Planning Commission’s decision came after what Caruso said was the longest deliberation over a single project in his career — at least 40 hours of discussion during the course of four meetings.

The appeal is expected to be held before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in December, CPA executive director Naomi Kovacs said in a statement.

Caruso has received commission permission to raze the old Miramar — a rotting cluster of dilapidated cottages that have sat empty for nearly a decade — and replace it with a five-star resort of the same name on South Jameson Lane along Highway 101.

On Friday, Caruso Affiliates spokesman Matt Middlebrook declined to comment extensively on the appeal, saying he will have more to say when it has actually been filed. County officials told him late Friday that it had not been filed.

“We are very confident that all of the issues have been addressed or responded to during the course of these proceedings,” he said.

The association’s complaints are wide-ranging, but seem to boil down to one major factor: The Montecito Planning Commission did not require Caruso to complete an Environmental Impact Report before proceeding with the project.

An EIR is a thorough study required by the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, when a preliminary assessment has determined that a project will have a significant effect on the environment.

Opponents have long held that the proposed development — one of the largest ever in Montecito — should require a full EIR.

The CPA’s list of concerns include flood impacts, water use, sewer capacity, construction noise, floor-area-ratio calculations, historic preservation, compliance with the Montecito Community Plan, architecture, greenhouse gas emissions, compliance with the Coast Act, traffic and storm-water runoff.

“With all due respect to the efforts of the Montecito Planning Commission, a number of significant deficiencies have not been addressed, even though we repeatedly brought
them to the county’s attention,” Ross Campbell, an attorney for Coast Law Group of Encinitas, which is representing CPA, said in a statement Friday.

“Given the scope of those outstanding concerns, CPA was left with no choice but to appeal.”

Flooding remains a concern for some opponents, as the plan involves filling in a floodplain on the property between Highway 101 and Miramar Beach, in an area that has flooded before.

To this end, the CPA also charged that the Planning Commission failed to adequately address a flap over an internal e-mail regarding the applicant’s Oak Creek flood analysis. In the e-mail, an engineering manager within the county Flood Control District stated that the initial hydrology study performed by Caruso-hired engineering firm Penfield & Smith contained a “fatal flaw.”

On Oct. 8, Tom Fayram, the deputy director of Santa Barbara County Public Works, tried to clear up the matter, saying Penfield & Smith conducted a subsequent study in March using a different methodology.

Based on that study, county officials and the Montecito Planning Commission concluded that any additional flooding threat posed by the Miramar project is, at most, a mere drop in the bucket of the larger floodplain.

Kovacs said she believes the Montecito Planning Commission failed to give proper attention to the CPA’s concerns, and failed to follow CEQA’s mandate.

“Without proper analysis of several key issues, how can the commission have determined the project will not have serious impacts that need to be addressed, and will not endanger the safety, health and property of project neighbors?” she asked.

Caruso, the third developer to own the property since 2000, has been unwilling to do a full EIR because he believes all of the necessary studies already have occurred. He refers in part to how a similar proposal at the same site under the owner who first abandoned the project, Ian Schrager, already had received county clearance.

The Schrager plan did not undergo an EIR because the county staff at the time determined it was unnecessary because of the lack of perceived substantial effects. In place of an EIR, the project received what is known as a “negative declaration.”

Caruso has said the impact of his hotel project would be even more minimal than Schrager’s, noting, for instance, that his proposal has fewer rooms than Schrager’s, which means less traffic. Opponents have countered that the Caruso project’s proposed net floor area is about 33,000 square feet larger than Schrager’s approved plan of 137,000 square feet.

In any case, Caruso, along with county staff members, has argued that an additional EIR of any sort is unnecessary. Caruso has said it also would be cost-prohibitive.

Very early on, Caruso did embark on a partial EIR — known in development speak as a “Supplemental EIR” — focusing on historic resources. Opponents were not satisfied.

In early August, Caruso’s proposal nearly died when the Montecito Planning Commission, shortly after the Montecito Water District had announced a water shortage, decided Caruso should conduct another partial EIR, this one examining water use. A few weeks later, in late August, the commission reversed that decision, and it became apparent that the project probably would pass muster with the commission.

Once a thriving hotel that catered to the famous and middle-class alike, the blue-roofed Miramar opened in the late 1800s but closed in 2000. In 1998, Schrager paid $30 million to purchase the property from the estate of June Outhwaite, whose family had owned it since 1939. Financial difficulties forced Schrager to shut down the project in 2000, and he later sold it to hotel magnate Ty Warner for $40 million.

Warner, owner of the nearby Four Seasons Biltmore Resort and San Ysidro Ranch, decided that the rigors of renovating another hotel project in Montecito were too much. He sold the property to Caruso for an undisclosed sum a year-and-a-half ago.

Caruso was hoping to reopen the Miramar by 2010.

Formed in 1960, the CPA is a nonprofit organization that, according to its Web site, advocates for responsible land-use planning and environmental protection in Santa Barbara County.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at