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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 3:24 pm | Fair 63º


Revised Miramar Hotel Project Passes Muster with Montecito Planning Commission

Developer Rick Caruso is confident the changes will help him secure financing, but first the proposal will go to the county Board of Supervisors

After several hours of discussion Wednesday, the Montecito Planning Commission gave its blessing to a slimmed-down version of the Miramar Hotel, slated for South Jameson Lane in Montecito and put forward by developer Rick Caruso.

Though the changes ultimately must be approved by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, Caruso can only hope that the project’s financing will materialize faster than the seemingly endless discussion about what is still just a proposal.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to send the new plans on to county supervisors, but they took issue with the project’s parking and fire access. The commissioners also voted unanimously to grant time extensions needed for the project’s coastal development permit.

Caruso, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, didn’t speak to commissioners but to Matt Middlebrook, who gave the project presentation and answered questions. The beleaguered project had already been approved by the Montecito Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, but Caruso hopes the new plans will be less unwieldy to investors.

The group still doesn’t have financing, “but we’re close,” Middlebrook assured the commissioners. “We are confident this is the plan that can get it done.”

The elimination of the ballroom building and tennis courts on the project’s eastern property are among the changes and were replaced with a heavily landscaped surface parking lot. The move allowed the group to eliminate one of the two levels of underground parking. Caruso’s team says the approach would reduce the visual impacts from Jameson Avenue, and the lot would have a permeable surface to eliminate stormwater runoff.

Other changes include an increase in open space and significant reductions in square footage, required height variances and number of rooms, which would drop from 192 to 186. A new pool restaurant would serve as a three-meal restaurant, and the amount of the project’s retail space would be reduced.

The project’s gross square footage would be 120,000 square feet less than the original, and there would be a reduced elevation of buildings lining Jameson Avenue, Middlebrook said.

The commissioners said parking is still inadequate and voted to suggest to county supervisors that the number of spaces be increased by at least 30. The new project would have 494 parking spaces, 30 spaces more than expected for peak demand, Middlebrook said. But the county’s ordinance calls for 632. Caruso’s old plan was approved with 88 fewer spaces than that code called for, but the changes leave it with even fewer, raising concerns.

The Planning Commission also wants supervisors to consider the impact that on-site parking — or lack thereof — would have on neighbors. County planner Dianne Black said staff supported the parking recommendations, and acknowledged that the county’s parking standards were outdated.

Commission chairman Jack Overall said that because the plans still have 204 employees slated to work at Miramar, a shortage of spaces could have consequences in an area with already limited parking.

“If you’re wrong, we don’t have a mechanism to address the community’s concerns,” he told Middlebrook.

Although the community did express concerns, desire for any kind of movement with the project also was obvious.

“Get it built,” Kellam de Forest said. “It’s quite an eyesore out there still.”

De Forest suggested that parking pressure could be addressed if Caruso worked out an agreement with the adjacent All-Saints-by-the-Sea Church. He suggested the developer might be able to use the extra parking spaces during the week, when the lot is mostly empty.

“We look forward to having (the Miramar) as neighbors,” said Phil Hogan, who lives on Miramar Avenue, across from where the project is slated to be built. Hogan expressed concern about an increase in traffic, however, as well as the reduction in parking spaces.

Issues about fire access also were raised. Several requirements from the Montecito Fire Department hadn’t been incorporated into the site plans presented by Middlebrook on Wednesday. He said Caruso Affiliated had only received the letter Tuesday, the day before the hearing.

Streets must be 20 feet wide for commercial use, and every road longer than 100 feet must have a turn-around for fire trucks — and both elements are missing in the site plans. For the project’s building plan to be approved, a fire protection certification, which would include all of the changes, must be approved.

“We are very cognizant of the concerns,” Middlebrook said.

Commissioner Sue Burrows said she has heard some concerns from residents about the level of noise from the restaurant, which was relocated near homes in the new plans. Middlebrook said the restaurants doors and windows would face away from homes, abating noise.

“We would love to have this in our neighborhood,” Burrows said, adding that parking was still a concern.

The item will go before the Board of Supervisors on March 15, and Middlebrook offered his thanks to commissioners at the end of Wednesday’s meeting.

“Now we’ll try to get it built,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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