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Battle Over Miramar Hotel Project Moves to the Next Round

Ahead of Wednesday's Montecito Planning Commission meeting, developer Rick Caruso says he will forgo the project's second floor of the spa room to ease concerns about the building's height.

The proposed developer of a hotly contested plan to revive the Miramar Hotel alongside Highway 101 in Montecito sent a mass e-mail Monday announcing that he would eliminate the second floor of the spa room to appease critics.

Rick Caruso, a Los Angeles-area shopping center developer and potential L.A. mayoral candidate, made the announcement two days before a widely anticipated hearing before the Montecito Planning Commission, which could make a decision at its meeting at 9 a.m.Wednesday.

“This reduced the height of this building at this visible corner by 11 feet, and significantly reduces the mass of the project as seen from South Jameson Lane,” Caruso wrote in the e-mail to supporters. He urged them to attend the meeting and speak in favor of the project.

Caruso’s critics say he is making the concession only because at the last Montecito Planning Commission hearing in mid-July, commissioners grilled him on whether he had undercalculated the project’s net floor area.

It’s a factor because code doesn’t allow for the total interior square footage to be much larger than the amounts that were given.

“Now they are responding to the fact that they were trying to pull the wool over the commissioners’ eyes with respect to floor area,” said Marco Gonzalez, a lawyer representing a group of opponents. He added that “they are still just scraping by,” saying there are other areas where they cut corners.

Caruso Affiliates spokesman Matt Middlebrook said the hotel is indeed trying to decrease its net floor area, but said there is nothing nefarious about it.

“Some critics of this project — we’ll never be able to make them happy,” he said. “The MBAR (Montecito Board of Architectural Review) said we are consistent with the buildings in the neighborhood, the Montecito Association has said our project is consistent with the Montecito Community Plan, and the county staff has said our project is consistent with the Community Plan. All the people who look at these types of things and provide their guidance to the Montecito Planning Commission have all said our project is consistent with the Montecito Community Plan.”

In general, critics say the project is too large, pointing out that it fails to meet zoning requirements on matters such as height, setbacks and parking. They also worry about flooding, and believe at the very least the project should be subject to a full environmental impact report.

Supporters say the blight needs to go, and they credit Caruso as an able developer who has a shot at building something that will be economically viable and aesthetically pleasing. They don’t believe that the project needs an EIR, because a former project to revive the hotel had been given clearance before being abandoned in 2000 by Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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