Tuesday, October 23 , 2018, 5:46 am | Fog/Mist 57º

 
 
 
 

Montecito Planning Commission Grants Conditional Approval of Miramar Resort

Divided planners allow the beachfront development to move forward after an eight-year process

The developers of the Miramar Beach Resort & Bungalows can finally see construction of their Montecito project move forward, albeit with several substantial asterisks.

Wearing exhausted expressions and signs of irritation after an all-day hearing, members of the Montecito Planning Commission voted 3-2 to approve the most recent resort plans while tacking on conditions that Los Angeles developer Caruso Affiliated must meet in order to continue.

The same concerns that caused commissioners to delay a final decision in December — lack of parking, water supply and traffic safety — took up much of the eight-hour discussion, but a new issue ultimately divided commissioners.

Chair J’Amy Brown and Commissioner Jack Overall voted no, voicing support for setting the main building back further from Jameson Lane.

After leaving last month’s meeting a bit perturbed by the delay, developer Rick Caruso of Caruso Affiliated returned with some placating changes, letting his executive vice president of development, Matt Middlebrook, do all the talking.

“We’ve worked very hard, as you can see from your stack of materials that you’ve received this week,” Middlebrook said. “We know that parking is something that worries people, and we’re cognizant of that. It is in everybody’s interest over time that the hotel is successful.”

The privately-held real estate firm has waited eight years for the right combination of financing and approval after buying the 16-acre property overlooking Miramar Beach and the Pacific Ocean in 2007.

Miramar received initial project approval in 2008, and revised plans — approved in 2011 — allowed Caruso Affiliated to demolish the existing hotel in 2012. The original Miramar Beach Hotel, which was established in the late 1880s, had been vacant since 2000.

Developer Rick Caruso, left, takes notes Wednesday during an all-day public hearing before the Montecito Planning Commission. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Caruso hoped to begin building on the former hotel site in June, with completion in summer 2017 — a timeline developers plan to stick to. 

The company has already raised more than $200 million in financing for the project.

The scaled-back project design was brought before commissioners in late 2014, featuring 170 guest rooms instead of 186, including 27 oceanfront rooms and suites, and a freestanding presidential suite.

Visibly frustrated at Wednesday's meeting, Middlebrook went over proposed changes and patiently listened to commissioners question the accuracy of nine total (and different) parking studies.

He proposed moving the Miramar Club from the west side of the property to the east, widening Miramar Avenue, angling Eucalyptus Lane parking stalls, adding more spaces on residential roads and revising the public beach access route.

Commissioners could also limit beach club membership to 200 instead of allowing for an additional 100 in the future, Middlebrook said, alleviating some of the 436 total on-site parking spaces for the anticipated peak demand of 401 spots.

He offered to monitor parking of Miramar’s 102 employees, and noted the resort’s parking stall to room ratio of 2.6 was much higher than that of the nearby Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore or El Encanto, both of which he said experience neighborhood parking overflow.

Two years after the project is built, if commissioners still find parking issues, Middlebrook said operators would try to find up to 50 off-site parking spaces — although commissioners were worried he didn’t yet have any idea where that could be.

Montecito Association President Cindy Feinberg spoke Wednesday in support of the Miramar Resort development. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

“I guess the problem here is that we have to feel confident that your parking is adequate,” Overall said.

A staff-conducted water analysis showed Montecito Water District agreed to provide 45 acre-feet of water, with the resort buying water needed for landscaping at a higher rate.

Overall said he doubted supplies accounted for the 400 guests that would visit the hotel for events, which Middlebrook guessed would happen twice a week.

Water was an issue other commissioners wanted to leave up to the water district to prevent micromanaging.

“My only concern here is the safety of the kids in our neighborhood,” a Montecito resident said during public comment, showing a picture of how crowded the surrounding streets got last weekend. “Even going five cars over, having that kind of overflow, is really a challenge for us.”

Speakers asked commissioners to weigh the needs of hotel guests with those of neighbors, who worried visitors would use street spots in lieu of paying a valet parking fee — a figure Middlebrook said hadn’t yet been determined.

All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church Senior Warden Chip Nichols said all issues his congregation previously had with the nearby resort had been resolved.

One neighboring property owner applauded commissioners for taking their time, and another longtime resident said delays jeopardized the entire project.

“I think some of the hypotheticals are exaggerated,” she said. “There was a hotel there before. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith. I know it’s in good hands.”

Commissioners liked the project’s aesthetics and design, but Brown said parking and water were serious concerns.

“The problem is this project is for 100 years,” she said. “We want to make sure that there’s soluble solutions to it.”

Commissioner Michael Phillips made a motion, asking to initially limit club membership to 100 instead of 200 and allowing up to 300 event guests instead of 400 — both decisions that could come back for commission review after a certain period.

The majority also voted in favor of implementing a keycard system to track parking, limiting location and idling of excursion buses transporting guests from Santa Barbara Airport, expanding the parking monitoring area, requiring club members to RSVP for special events and adding more vegetation screening.

Developers were not in favor of setbacks or limiting the club membership, but Middlebrook didn’t say whether the conditions would force Caruso to appeal the decision to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

“(Beach memberships) are important to the economics of the hotel,” he said. “And we think the buildings are setback much further than they were in the previous iteration.”

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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