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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 11:17 pm | Fair 47º


Planning Commissioners Tell Miramar Owners to Clean Up Their Act

Panel approves one project permit extension but wants review of potential hazards, property condition

About a dozen dilapidated beach cottages on the Miramar Hotel property drew plenty of comment and concern at Wednesday’s Montecito Planning Commission hearing, where the hotel’s owners were seeking an extension of the project’s permits.

One commissioner called the property at 1555 S. Jameson Lane a “16-acre blemish” on the community, and the mood on the dais seemed willing to support the extension request, but not without a little cleanup first.

Although the hotel was approved for development in April, plans have been sidelined because of a sagging economy, including withering demand for luxury hotels.

Since then, the cottages have remained on site so that those who were interested in hauling them away could get the permits needed to move them off the property. Some Santa Barbara County officials thought the buildings had historic value, and the removal of the cottages by interested parties was a condition of approval for the hotel. But that’s been a time-consuming process, and three people interested in five of the cottages are still awaiting permits.

The decision to approve an extension will ultimately come from the Board of Supervisors since it approved the project, but the Planning Commission must make a recommendation.

The commissioners approved extending the project’s coastal development permit for a year, but delayed making a decision on four other permits for the property’s conditional use. They recommended that the supervisors look at the health and safety issues and see how much cleanup has been done on the property before extending the other permits.

An extension can be granted for the project if good cause is shown and no significant changes to the approved project have been made. County staff members said Wednesday that the economic situation is so bad that it supports a finding of good cause.

Meanwhile, the ruins of the old hotel remain on the property, creating what some neighbors say is a fire hazard and a home for transients.

“This property is an accident waiting to happen,” said Richard Thielscher.  Kids have been seen using the buildings as a place to stay overnight, according to Thielscher.

“Word is out that it’s the best free housing in town,” he said.

Interim Montecito Fire Marshall Bret Koepke said he personally examined each cottage and documented “numerous fire violations.”

Koepke said he had seen an extensive amount of debris and waste on the site. If one of the buildings should catch fire, he said, the deterioration of floors and structures could create a hazard for firefighters.

He also said that abandoned buildings like those on the Miramar property are historically prone to arson.

But Caruso Affiliates spokesman Matt Middlebrook said the company has been diligent about watching over the property, and even funneled $4.1 million into it just in 2009, most of which went toward property taxes and the costs of caring for the property.

The company has paid for weed abatement every three months, according to Middlebrook, and is donating usable building materials from the site to Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County, which is expected to make a pick up in the next two weeks.

“We are disappointed that we’re here seeking an extension without more visible progress on the site,” he said. “We’re hopeful that 2010 looks better. We do not enjoy the situation where we spend $4.1 million in 2009 and don’t get anything done.”

But commissioners seemed to unilaterally support demolition of the buildings, even though they’re only advisory on this issue.

“You owe the community ... some improvement to that property,” Commissioner Sue Burrows told Middlebrook. “It’s a matter of time before that’s a big lawsuit.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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