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City Council Clears the Way for Developer to Raze Site for Condos

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation objects to the plan out of archaeological concerns.

To the chagrin of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday night approved a proposal to raze an office building at 800 Santa Barbara St. and replace it with a mixed-use condo development.

The trust had appealed a 3-2 decision in June by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission to approve the six-condo project on the grounds that adequate archaeological testing had not occurred at the culturally sensitive site.

For instance, trust officials believe that the development could partly cover a historic trail that was used by Spaniards on horseback as early as 1770 to get from one mission settlement to the other throughout California. Also, they worry that the site may be home to historic trash deposits that contain ancient coins, pottery and other artifacts that help researchers piece together the puzzle of our past.

A majority of the council was satisfied by the developer’s promise to ensure that an archaeologist would examine the area after the office building is razed and before construction begins.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a huge bulldozer type of thing,” Mayor Marty Blum said. “We’re going to have a real careful dig, and so it’s going to be OK.”

The 5-1 vote, with Councilman Roger Horton absent, means the 1,900-square-foot office building next to the private Anacapa School at the corner of De La Guerra and Santa Barbara streets will be replaced by a 14,000-square-foot complex with six residential condominiums and 10 commercial condominiums. The condo development will be two and three stories tall, but would fall within the city’s zoning laws for height and bulk.

Just before the vote, the lone dissenter, Councilman Dale Francisco, said approving the project would be a “tragic mistake.”

One of his numerous concerns had to do with the project’s size.

Francisco said that although the project complies with the city’s zoning laws, he still believes that it is too large for the neighborhood, which on the project’s side of the street consists entirely of one-story buildings.

He also said he believed the Planning Commission failed to properly consider the project, mostly by allowing architect Brian Cearnal to dominate the discussion. This, he said, factored largely into how one of the commissioners, Bruce Bartlett, changed his mind, thus changing the fate of the project because of the narrow vote.
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“Mr. Cearnal spoke, by my watching of the tape, more than some of the planning commissioners themselves,” he said.

Finally, Francisco said it appeared to him that because there seemed to be disagreement among archaeological experts on how to properly dig the site, the decision should be made by the city commission that typically deals more closely with such matters, the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Councilwoman Iya Falcone, who said she had an office in the neighborhood for years, disagreed with Francisco’s claim that the project is out of step with the neighborhood.

“There are two-story — and very tall two-story — and some three-story buildings very close in proximity,” she said.

She added that the proposed development is mostly a two-story project, with a three-story element resembling a tower. 

“To represent it as a three-story (project) borders on disingenuous,” she said.

The project will not contain any affordable units, but the developer — listed as Santa Barbara Street LLC — has agreed to pay a fee in lieu of having any affordable units. The fee will go toward a fund that dedicated to helping middle-class families purchase homes locally.

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

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