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Community Scrutinizes Proposed Carpinteria Bluffs Development

Carpinteria City Council, planning commission give input on 27-acre development

plans for a 27-acre development on the Carpinteria bluffs got a chilly reception Monday night during a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission.
plans for a 27-acre development on the Carpinteria bluffs got a chilly reception Monday night during a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission. (Contributed map)

Carpinteria residents on Monday night got a peek at plans for a 27-acre development on the bluffs, where developers want to build a hotel, homes and a small golf putting green among open spaces.

The reception was not warm.

Dozens of public speakers packed into a standing-room-only meeting inside Carpinteria City Council chambers, urging officials at the joint session with the city Planning Commission to preserve the small town’s low-key character.

Just about everyone commented on the sheer density of the project proposed by Los Angeles-based Capital Hall Partners, which came before the town’s 10 decision makers for a preliminary concept review to start what the firm called the beginning of a multi-year conversation.

The problem being, however, that most in attendance weren’t willing to start a discussion at all about plans to build up a portion of the Carpinteria Bluffs — an area locals have been trying to buy and preserve as open public space for decades.

“Good luck,” City Councilman Bradley Stein said to developers after acknowledging the concerns from dozens of public speakers. “You’re forewarned on this.”

The project — described by officials as too dense and hampering coastal views — would be built on agriculture property to the east of the town at Carpinteria Bluffs I, largely viewed as a gateway to Carpinteria and Santa Barbara County.

To the west is the nature preserve, which is the largest portion of the bluffs purchased in 1998 by the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and thousands of donors to keep the space overlooking the Pacific Ocean open and green.

Activists wearing green shirts reminded developers that the nonprofit and city of Carpinteria also tried to purchase the Bluffs I area, but O.Rhyan Capital Management LLC scooped it up in 2014 via bankruptcy proceedings.

Many firms have tried to develop the land since the 1960s, with the latest proposal calling for a 154-room hotel, 45 single-family cottages of two and three bedrooms, 40 multi-family apartments (18 studios and 22 two bedrooms), 11 units reserved for employees of the hotel, a nine-hole golf putting course and an organic farm on just over 23 acres.

Nearly 30 percent of the property would be reserved for open space — putting green, nearly four acres on the beach side of the railroad tracks and two acres of farmland — with 30 percent (eight acres) for residential apartments and cottages and 12 percent to for-sale affordable housing.

A restaurant, a large building for public meetings and a pedestrian trail railroad undercrossing would also be built to connect the Bluffs Open Space Preserve and the beach.

With residential, recreation, commercial and open-space uses, officials called the project “too busy” and unfit for the area.

Other officials said the hotel didn’t belong on the site, the restaurant was in the wrong place, traffic would be a nightmare and water use during drought was a concern.

Carpinteria Valley Water District General Manager Charles Hamilton said the property currently uses 26 acre-feet of water per year and would need another 21 acre-feet for the development, which is hoping to use gray water from its hotel.

“Not quite twice as much, but a big chunk,” Hamilton said, noting he couldn’t say for sure whether the district could serve the project into the future without more current data. “We’re in the same dilemma with everyone.”

Brian Cearnal, architect of the project, reassured council the hotel would not be for high-end guests, and would provide 75,000 square feet of rooms and much-needed housing.

Bradley Hall, founder of Capital Hall Partners, reiterated the project’s importance, and explained he’s in the process of buying the property from O.Rhyan Capital.

“Nothing seems forgotten (in the project) except the very essence of the bluffs,” Ted Rhodes of Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs said to applause.

Others called the project “gargantuan” and questioned whether a hotel or this type of housing was needed.

The 10 officials asked developers for a larger project setback from railroad tracks and called the housing too isolated and inconsistent with its surroundings.

Mayor Gregg Carty questioned whether the development should even move forward because of the drought.

“I don’t want to see Carpinteria become a tourist town,” he said. “I’d like to see it preserved as open space. That’s a wild dream at this point.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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