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Montecito Association Committee Rebuffs Neighbors’ Request for Casa Dorinda EIR

Concerns are raised about the impacts of the proposed expansion of the senior community on Hot Springs Road

Montecito Association land-use commitee member Charlene Nagel speaks during Monday night’s meeting about the proposed expansion of the Casa Dorinda retirement community at 300 Hot Springs Road.
Montecito Association land-use commitee member Charlene Nagel speaks during Monday night’s meeting about the proposed expansion of the Casa Dorinda retirement community at 300 Hot Springs Road. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The Montecito Association's land-use committee has decided not to request that additional environmental studies be done on a proposed expansion of the Casa Dorinda retirement community in Montecito.

The decision came Monday night at the end of a two-hour hearing with a sometimes testy crowd watching.

The decision chagrined neighbors, who were asking that an environmental impact report be required for the project, which would add 20 new independent-living units, six personal-care units and six memory-care units, along with a new grill restaurant on the property and other changes to the facility at 300 Hot Springs Lane.

Neighbors, particularly from adjacent Wyant Road and Bonnie Lane, also have expressed concern about the 27 oak trees that will have to be removed for the new development; the distance of trash and recycling facilities to the property line; and the impact on a nearby conservation easement.

A draft mitigated negative declaration — a document that states there aren't any impacts imposed by the project that can't be made up for in another way — has been prepared by the county, and if an EIR isn't compelled, either by the county or by private lawsuit, the Planning Commission would review it in the next few months.

The Montecito Association's land-use committee met in Casa Dorinda's auditorium Monday night in front of about 125 people.

Ron Schaefer, executive director of Casa Dorinda, said the county's public-comment period was expiring, and the Montecito Association was left without time to formalize its opinion. He added that leaving the questions unanswered was "not being a good neighbor."

The organization is expanding because of a "very real need for health care," he said, adding that more medical beds were needed at the campus, as well as infrastructure changes and more senior cottages.

"We are inundated with a lot of requests to provide senior housing," he said.

Schaefer later said the cost to conduct an EIR would be at least $700,000, and the process would add about a year onto the project, while likely coming to the same conclusion.

Architect Brian Cearnal told the Montecito Association's land-use committee Monday night that any impacts from the proposed Casa Dorinda expansion can be mitigated. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The project's architect, Brian Cearnal, said that many of the campus' buildings were built in the 1970s and in need of exterior updates.

As part of the plan, the property's entrance would be made "rational," aligned with the intersection, and a new 20-foot bridge would be installed to accommodate cars as well as a pedestrian walkway.

A 5,000-square-foot grill would provide alternative dining for residents, while adding more dining space, and a new independent-living area would be constructed in an area now used for parking.

Basement parking for 78 cars, primarily employees, also would be constructed.

The changes would require relocating green waste and a trash compactor, which would be surrounded by an 8-foot wall, whereas now they are open to view, he said, which moves them closer to the property line.

"We wouldn't be doing that if we didn't think the sound and smell issues could not be completely mitigated," he said, while acknowledging that the trash enclosures would be put 91 feet away from the property line.

The linchpin of the project is the expansion of the personal-care and memory-care unit, Cearnal said, which "needs a lot of improvement, particularly in meeting accessibility standards."

The expansion would require them to expand into the adjoining open space, an easement of 18.6 acres.

Some invasive species are there now, as well as some beautiful trees, but the building would be built around some of those existing trees, Cearnal said, adding that additional space would be added to the easement to make up for the loss of the trees.

Mark De La Garza, the project's biologist, said 27 oak trees will have to be removed, including five extra large oak trees, one of which has died from bark beetles, and one extra large sycamore that will have to be taken out for the bridge.

Casa Dorinda has planned on putting in 199 oak trees as a replacement, he said.

Dale Zurawski, who spoke representing Wyant Road and Bonnie Lane neighbors, said that "this project must also meet the needs of the community that surrounds their property."

Additional research is needed, including a cultural resource survey, she said.

"This entire area should be tested as a Chumash cultural site," she said, which garnered groans from the mostly elderly crowd.

"The status of the current oak grove is very poor," Zurawski said, adding that the removal of 27 trees should warrant the preparation of an EIR.

Other neighbors said that the trash from hundreds of people, medical waste and restaurants would be noticeable from their homes. 

Doris Medved, a 41-year resident on Wyant Road, said that that "Casa Dorinda has never been very cooperative with us," and asserted that the trash would be a problem for neighbors.

Paula McDonald, a resident at Casa Dorinda who moved into the community three years ago from Calabasas, had a different point of view.

"I do not have 50 years residence" in Montecito, she said, but she believe Casa Dorinda is "one that cares about its neighbors. I'm not crazy about every detail of it, but I'm convinced of the need," she said of the plan, adding that many of the buildings "need a facelift as badly as some of us."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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