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Santa Barbara Council May Take Action Against ABR Over Chick-fil-A Vote

Hotchkiss and Rowse call for some committee members to step down in wake of the controversy

The Santa Barbara City Council could take action next month against members of the city’s Architectural Board of Review.

Councilmen Frank Hotchkiss and Randy Rowse have called for the resignations of board members who abstained from a vote concerning a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

“At recent meetings, the members of the ABR first gave unanimous approval for a restaurant project at 3707 State St., then refused to move the project forward when minor, staff-supported changes were requested,” according to the memo sent by the councilmen to City Administrator Jim Armstrong. “At least two board members have said publicly that their refusals to approve the changes were based not on the merits of the project, but on the politics of the applicant.”

Council members will review those actions Sept. 25 and decide if any steps should be taken.

Since the City Council appoints board and commission members, those same members can be removed by a majority vote of the council.

ABR member Keith Rivera resigned from his position this week, effective immediately, according to Assistant City Administrator Marcelo Lopez. In a letter to Mayor Helene Schneider and the council members, he wrote that he doesn’t want his presence to be a distraction to the board’s work, or take away from the integrity of the city’s design review process. Rivera has served on the ABR for 3½ years.

“I stepped down from the Review after final of the 3707 State St. application because I felt the controversy and unprecedented media publicity associated with the applicant at that time could affect my objectivity on the matter before me,” he wrote. “The ethics training the board received earlier this year emphasized that if we had any doubt about a potential conflict of interest we should step down from the item, and so I did.”

Click here to read the full resignation letter.

Rivera, an architect, was one of the members to abstain from approving the minutes of the July 23 meeting as well.

“I agree with members of the community, City Council and design profession that personal beliefs have no part in the evaluation of a design review application,” he wrote. “My actions above as an ABR member were to assure that was the case for this applicant.”

Hotchkiss and Rowse want to consider removing some or all of the members, and if that is done, find quick replacements so the board can continue its work. They also want to consider forming a blue-ribbon advisory committee to create a code of conduct and improved guidelines for the Architectural Board of Review.

Controversy over Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy’s anti-same-sex marriage remarks in mid-July made national headlines. The company has made millions of dollars in donations to anti-gay organizations, according to news reports.

The ABR’s vote on project changes came after Cathy’s remarks, and two members declined to approve the landscaping and patio changes because of their own beliefs.

City planning staff members made the approvals administratively instead, since the restaurant project already has received its final approval.

The board’s actions prompted statements by Schneider, Hotchkiss and Rowse, explaining that the review board’s decisions should be based on design merit alone.

Members of the public with the same sentiments chastised the ABR at a meeting Monday.

“In design review, you review the application, not the applicant,” former ABR member Bill Mahan said.

At that meeting, some board members made statements to explain their votes to abstain from approving the minor project changes as well.

The Chick-fil-A restaurant is proposed for a former Burger King location.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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