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Santa Barbara Planners Scrutinize Fess Parker Family Hotel Development Agreement

Officials ask for more information before giving family more time to build waterfront hotel on Cabrillo Boulevard

The Fess Parker family is again asking the city of Santa Barbara for more time to build its waterfront hotel, slated for 433 E. Cabrillo Blvd. beside Chase Palm Park.
The Fess Parker family is again asking the city of Santa Barbara for more time to build its waterfront hotel, slated for 433 E. Cabrillo Blvd. beside Chase Palm Park.          (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

The family of the late Fess Parker hopes to submit plans this year for a new waterfront hotel on Cabrillo Boulevard, but Santa Barbara officials had too many questions Thursday to give a new development agreement the go-ahead.

Specifically, the majority of Santa Barbara City Planning Commission members said they couldn’t recommend Santa Barbara City Council approve the new agreement without clarifying the hotel’s stormwater management plan, the amount of construction already completed, and the transfer of existing development rights (in the form of hotel rooms) to other sites if this hotel is smaller than originally planned.

The commission voted 4-3 to direct staff to come back with a revised draft before the issues goes to council.

After decades of asking for more time to secure financing, Eli Parker, the son of the late Fess Parker famous for playing Davy Crockett, said the family was finally ready to move forward on a smaller design than was previously approved for 433 E. Cabrillo Blvd. — across Calle Cesar Chavez from the family’s Fess Parker Doubletree Resort.

The plans for a 150-room establishment at that site were approved in 1981 and amended in 1993, with conditions that the Parker family build a 100-room hostel and donate land for a Chase Palm Park expansion.

The Wayfarer hostel on State and Montecito streets opened in 2014, and the hotel-adjacent parcel is now home to the Chase Palm Park Carousel and play areas.

A development agreement that gave the family 12 years to get approvals and build the hotel has since expired, which was why the planning commission took another look this week during a six-hour discussion.

If approved, the new 10-year agreement would give the Parkers four years to submit revised plans, with permits secured by 2021 and the luxury hotel built by 2026 when the agreement expires. The family could also move forward building the 150-room hotel in that time.

“Our goal will be to finalize our concept and process plans with city this year,” said Parker, who spoke at the meeting along with his sister, Ashley.

“As with most things, timing is everything. We think this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. This is the time to complete our waterfront hotel.”

Much of the meeting was spent soothing confusion that the family was hoping to be exempt from the city’s stormwater management ordinance. 

Suzanne Elledge, owner of her own planning and permitting firm, spoke on behalf of the Parkers and agreed that the draft development agreement could use clarification.

She urged the city to let it go forward. 

She said the hotel site would fully comply with stormwater treatment but not detention, since the Parker family already paid in the 1980s to have all water from the two hotel projects go to the Eastside storm drain.

The waterfront hotel parking lot site at 103 S. Calle Cesar Chavez would fully comply with both treatment and detention, Elledge said.

Commissioners were also uncomfortable with the idea that if the project uses fewer than 150 rooms, the Parker family could then transfer of up 70 hotel rooms to another establishment such as the Doubletree Resort.

City code typically speculates the transfer of square footage, not hotel rooms, but staff assured commissioners the decision wouldn’t be precedent setting. 

The move would, nonetheless, require a zoning ordinance amendment to defer the waterfront hotel development agreement by allowing the transfer of excess/undeveloped hotel rooms.

“What prevents the Parker family from doing something else in the future?” asked Commissioner Sheila Lodge, who worried adding rooms to the Doubletree would exacerbate traffic and rile up controversy.

“I am concerned about what’s in it for the city.”

Ashley Parker gave her word the family was trying to fit a smaller, more appropriate hotel inside the 3.2 acres, calling it the last developable property on the Santa Barbara coastline.

“It’s a hole in the ground,” Commissioner Michael Jordan said. “We need to get the thing built. It’s really easy to forget all the things this project has done so far for the city.”

For that reason, he opposed bringing the draft back, as did Lodge and Commissioner Jay Higgins.

Commissioner June Belletto de Pujo was quite adamant about removing the word “luxury” from the development agreement — saying she didn’t know what the word really meant — and declaring the hostel wasn’t actually for low-income residents, but city staff said the wording couldn’t really be changed because of previously approved agreements.

A motion to eliminate all references to transferring rooms to the Doubletree Resort — while not actually preventing it — died on the dias, but commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of keeping the transfer of hotel rooms language in the development agreement.

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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