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Commission Postpones Coast Village Road Decision

After three hours of impassioned testimony, planning panel puts off vote for one week.

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[Editor’s note: The Montecito Inn is three stories tall. The story has been corrected below.]

After a marathon parade of public comment, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission punted Thursday on a hotly contested proposal to replace a Montecito gas station with a mixed-use condominium complex.

The commissioners said they needed a week to digest the arguments, and pledged to make a decision at their next meeting on March 20.

The project — which the city staff supports — calls for building eight market-rate condo units at the site of the Olive Mill 76 Service Center, 1298 Coast Village Road, in a strip of Montecito that falls under the jurisdiction of the city of Santa Barbara. Most of the parking would be underground.

In front of a spillover crowd of about 150 people, four commissioners listened to about three hours’ worth of testimony, which was divided about evenly for and against the project. Three of the commission’s seven members recused themselves due to their connections to the project developer, longtime local businessman John Price.

Opponents delivered a slew of arguments against the project, which, because of its location at the east end of Coast Village Road, is considered a gateway entrance to Montecito. In short, they said the three-story building is too big for the half-acre lot on which it would sit. Among other things, they charged that the project would tax the district’s already low water supply, block mountain views, clog traffic and set a precedent for bigger buildings on Coast Village Road. They also asserted the building would create a canyon-like effect, because it is across the street from what is currently the largest building on the block — the three-story Montecito Inn.

Particularly irksome to them was how Price was asking for exemptions from several zoning ordinances, the most notable of which mandates a 17-foot buffer between the proposed project and a residential property to the north. Under Price’s proposal, the new building would come within 10 feet of the neighbor’s garage.

John Wallace, the owner of the property in question said the proposal amounts to an invasion of his privacy.

“From the top floor, they will be 27 feet above us, peering down and looking at us,” he said. “He’s trying to fit two pounds into a one-pound bag."

Proponents noted that the proposed 35-foot building — whose tower would reach 40 feet — falls well under the area’s 45-foot height limit. They also said it would bring three much-needed parking spaces to Coast Village Road.

“I really believe this is everything we could ask for in a development,” said David Pintard. “It reduces traffic, reduces noise and reduces air pollution, it eliminates eye pollution, and includes parking. It was passed by the ABR (Architectural Board of Review) unanimously. … It’s a mixed-use project in the right location."

Proponents also said the project was preferable to the alternative, which is to build a bigger gas station on the property. Price, who is primarily in the business of building gas stations, has said making the current Union 76 station profitable would require doubling the hours of operation to 24, and a six-fold increase of the amount of gas pumped from there daily. The property’s current zoning allows that type of a gas station.

City staff members said the precedent-setting claim is unfounded, because Coast Village Road is mostly built out.

The proposal does not include any affordable units. Santa Barbara requires a certain percentage of affordable housing only when a development includes at least 10 units.

The three Planning Commissioners who recused themselves Thursday were Bruce Bartlett, Charmaine Curtis Jacobs and Harwood White.

White works as a land-use consultant for Price, and Bartlett is an architect for a piece of property Price purchased in Goleta. As for Jacobs, Price is a client of the law firm of her husband, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP.

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