Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 6:11 pm | Fair 69º

 
 
 
 

Local News

El Encanto Hotel Cornered by Neighbors Over Utilities

Residents take their case to the Santa Barbara council, insisting $100 million project's site changes require new review

Facing a packed chamber, the Santa Barbara’s City Council waded into the contentious and long-running dispute between neighbors and the owners of the still-closed El Encanto Hotel on the Riviera. The issue took up four hours of Tuesday’s meeting, and addressed an appeal some of the neighbors had filed on the project, which was approved by the Planning Commission in February.

After that approval, an appeal was filed by Marc Chytilo, an attorney for Elizabeth and Robert Leslie, Sally and Farrokh Nazerian, and Jan and Johanna von Yurt, families with homes adjacent to the hotel at 1900 Lasuen Road.

The primary concern of the residents is the northwest corner of the site, where advocates for the hotel would like to see an area for utilities, a surface valet parking lot and an operations facility. Neighbors maintain it would greatly increase noise by being so close to their homes. The 97-room project would also create five new cottages on the property, underneath which would be a parking garage. Also on the drawing board are a swimming pool and a fitness center.

In the end, the council voted 6-0, with Councilman Roger Horton absent, for both groups to negotiate for 60 to 90 days over the sticking points before reconvening with an agreement.

The master plan for the hotel was approved by the Planning Commission five years ago, but ownership of the property changed just before the project approval. The new owner, Orient Express, decided more changes were needed for the plan, so a revised master plan was submitted.

Flanked by supporters wearing green, von Yurt, who lives on Mission Ridge Road, was the first to speak Tuesday. She said that she, along with other neighbors, loved the hotel and frequented it for brunch and evening cocktails while it was open.

Representing residents in their El Encanto Hotel dispute, Marc Chytilo makes the case for a new environmental impact review.
Representing residents in their El Encanto Hotel dispute, Marc Chytilo makes the case for a new environmental impact review. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“We do not oppose this project,” she said. “But so far the Orient Express representatives are not listening to the community and the neighbors.”

Von Yurt said her group has lived with the construction project and been tolerant of the noise from the building site.

“We never once complained. Not once.” she said, noting that the plans have changed to the point to where it isn’t compatible with the neighborhood.

Because of the historic, visual and noise impacts, Chytilo said the project needed an environmental impact report.

On the other side of the issue, Trish Allen, a senior planner with Suzanne Elledge Planning and Permitting Services, said the utilities’ location had received unanimous approval from the Planning Commission in February.

Doug Fell, attorney for Orient Express, said that even though the neighbors may have lost their views, the project had been approved and must move forward. “We can’t go backward on that,” he said. “It’s done.”

During public comment, Steve Cushman, executive director of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, applauded the company for being willing to invest in the community — to the tune of an estimated $100 million project. However,  he said, “I think it’s a shame that Doug and Orient Express can’t work this out with their neighbors.”

Susan Billig, another neighbor, said residents were “harassed to distraction” when they wanted to remodel, while big developers got the green light. “How do they do that? They do it piecemeal,” she said.

Trish Allen, a senior planner with Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services, notes that the Planning Commission had bestowed its unanimous approval on the new utilities' location.
Trish Allen, a senior planner with Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services, notes that the Planning Commission had bestowed its unanimous approval on the new utilities’ location. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“I feel shame for the planning department, and for the board and commissions. And I feel shame for the city council, for this type of planning,” she said. “Who can we trust to keep Santa Barbara livable?”

Councilman Grant House said he was on the Planning Commission when the project was approved in 2004. “There’s some collaboration that’s needed,” he said. “We’re very close to a project that’s compatible.”

House admonished the group for the placement of the utilities. “It could be the right place for the facility, but not the right place for the hotel,” he said.

Councilman Dale Francisco said he felt the Planning Commission did not make the right decision going forward in February, and that he wants the groups to work out the issues of the parking lot and the utilities.

“I think those are solvable design problems,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, Councilmen Dale Francisco and Das Williams, City Attorney Steve Wiley and a large contingent of politicians and residents paid a site visit to El Encanto Hotel's Riviera complex Monday.
Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, Councilmen Dale Francisco and Das Williams, City Attorney Steve Wiley and a large contingent of politicians and residents paid a site visit to El Encanto Hotel’s Riviera complex Monday. (Charles Croninger photo)

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