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Maserati, Alfa Romeo Dealership Plans Skid Past Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review

ABR members OK luxury car dealership proposal with 5-2 vote, so plans now go to the city's Planning Commission

An artist’s rendition shows a proposed Maserati and Alfa Romeo luxury car dealership on Hitchcock Way in Santa Barbara.
An artist’s rendition shows a proposed Maserati and Alfa Romeo luxury car dealership on Hitchcock Way in Santa Barbara.  (Contributed photo)

Maserati and Alfa Romeo are sputtering toward the finish line.

The luxury car dealership skidded past Santa Barbara's Architectural Board of Review on Monday, in a tense meeting that spotlighted sharp divisions among board members. 

After two failed votes, the panel voted 5-2 to support the car dealership proposed for 350 Hitchcock Way, although the support was less than enthusiastic.

New Century Automotive Group wants to build a two-story, 33-foot-tall building, with glass panels allowing buyers to peer inside.

The dealership will feature Maserati and Alfa Romeo cars, and offer storage spots on the second floor for car owners, who make Santa Barbara their "third or fourth home." It would also include a showroom, enclosed service bays, and an office and parts department.

Although Ferrari was depicted in an early architectural rendering of the project, it currently is not part of the proposal.

The board members who supported the project on Monday acknowledged the work efforts the developers had already made to improve the project over the course of three meetings. Even though the project wasn't perfect in their eyes, it was close enough to support.

"We have to be fair to the applicants," commissioner Scott Hopkins said. "I am a process guy."

At one point the developers wanted to cut down a row of eucalyptus trees, but backpedaled on that idea. They stepped the building back further from the street and agreed to add and change the landscaping to soften the look of the industrial building. 

Even on Monday, the board was still wheeling and dealing with the development team. 

Board member Courtney Jane Miller said the developer's proposed 8- and 10-foot palms were too small, requesting that the dealership instead plan a minimum of 12-foot-tall trees. 

And ABR member Howard Wittausch, who made the final motion for approval after two failed votes, told the developers before they go to the planning commission to create the illusion of a reduction of the mass and scale of the building through finish, texture, color and other design elements that "place the architecture more substantially in a Santa Barbara context."

Chairman Kirk Gradin and board member Thiep Cung voted no. 

Gradin said the building is still too large and out of touch with Santa Barbara-style architecture, while Cung disliked the size of the second-story element of the building.

"My feeling is that the building is massive and made to appear even more massive by the giant porte cochères," Gradin said. 

Cung agreed, saying he's not sure how many people in Santa Barbara drive Maseratis. 

"I am really having a problem with the two story portion in the back," Cung said. "Looking at the site elevation, it just seems really massive."

Even though the project has cleared the ABR, don't raise the checkered flag yet. 

The team behind the luxury car dealership must next go before the city's Planning Commission for project approval. The controversy at the ABR over the project will likely spill over to the next review.

Cung said the Planning Commission usually "likes a unanimous ABR vote."

Residential neighbors who oppose the project will likely show up at the Planning Commission meeting.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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