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Local News

City Council Denies Appeals of Upper State Street Development

The project proposes replacing the Sandman Inn and Downtown Brewing Co. with an office complex and condos

After 11 public hearings, seven years and a five-hour meeting on Tuesday, a proposed development for Upper State Street finally got the nod from the Santa Barbara City Council.

The approved project calls for 73 condominiums, an office building and two commercial condos at 3714 and 3744 State St., where the Downtown Brewing Co. and Sandman Inn currently stand.

The average square footage for each condo hovers around 1,200 square feet, with 11 of those units classified as affordable.

The council voted unanimously to deny the appeals of two neighborhood groups — the Citizens Planning Association and the Allied Neighborhood Association — that voiced concerns about the project, including its environmental documents.

The groups’ lawyer, Marc Chytilo, appeared before the council Tuesday to make his case.

When the project started out, it included plans for a new hotel and residential units, but it also presented some alternatives, including one similar to the current proposal. The environmental documents that were conducted included those alternatives, and though the approved project is slightly different, city staff said the scope of the original documents would suffice.

Most of the discussion Tuesday centered on the discrepancy between the environmental documents and what could happen in the future if they weren’t changed to match the current project.

The City Council, City Attorney Steve Wiley and Chytilo batted about a theoretical scenario in which an Orange County developer, for example, could come forward and purchase the property and put forward a new hotel proposal.

“There is some legal vulnerability,” Chytilo said. “Developers want to use old EIRs when they can get away with it.”

Chytilo also took issue with the city’s interpretation of several items throughout its CEQA process, and each member of the council agreed that the process should be clarified for the public, including Councilman Dale Francisco, who asked that city documents be made readable for those who aren’t “CEQA lawyers.”

“If the public can’t understand, the process is meaningless,” he said.

Wiley said the environmental documents would be likely to stay the same in the Orange County developer scenario, but it would be considered a new project and have to start over — gaining the approval of the city’s various boards and commissions.

City staff repeatedly said the existence of environmental documents doesn’t automatically approve a project.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the project in December, and the majority of speakers during Tuesday’s public comment period spoke in favor of it.

City staff said they felt the project was environmentally superior to what’s there now, and even said that traffic trips in that area would be reduced by up 800 per day.

Greg Parker of Investec Real Estate Companies, one of the groups behind the new project, said it would continue to operate the hotel until the timing is right to build the project.

He also said they might approach local employers about partnership in the housing, including Cottage Hospital. City planner Betty Weiss said approvals for the project would last up to five years.

The council denied the appeal Tuesday, but the item will return for final adoption before the end of March.

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

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