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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 9:36 am | Fair 52º


County Supervisors Back Challenge to Overturn Conditions on Miramar Development

The project goes back before the board, with Caruso Affiliated agreeing to find up to 50 off-site parking spaces if a problem persists

Caruso Affiliated developer Rick Caruso looks over a piece of paper at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting that contains an added condition requiring the developer to find up to 50 off-site parking spaces if the issue persists into year two.
Caruso Affiliated developer Rick Caruso looks over a piece of paper at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting that contains an added condition requiring the developer to find up to 50 off-site parking spaces if the issue persists into year two.  (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Striking a deal with a prominent Los Angeles developer, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday granted an appeal to overturn certain conditions placed on the Miramar Beach Resort & Bungalows development in Montecito.

The board unanimously voted to back a Caruso Affiliated challenge of the Montecito Planning Commission’s Jan. 21 approval, which tacked on restrictions limiting the resort’s beach club members, excursion bus parking and event capacity.

All it took was a last-minute letter holding the developers to find up to 50 off-site parking spaces if the long-standing issue persists — a condition to which developer Rick Caruso readily agreed.

The supervisors decided to override the 3-2 planning commission approval of the proposed hotel site on 16 acres overlooking Miramar Beach, a go-ahead that criticized a lack of parking, water supply and traffic safety.

A second appeal filed by L.A.-based attorney Robert Silverstein on behalf of a Richard and Dana Pachulski, who own property on Miramar Avenue, was withdrawn after the couple reached an undisclosed settlement with developers.

“Thank you,” a visibly relieved Caruso said to officials at the end of the hearing.

Tuesday marked the second time Miramar resort plans were before the Board of Supervisors, which allowed the privately held Los Angeles real estate firm to move forward with the project by approving different plans back in 2011.

Caruso Affiliated has waited eight years for the right combination of financing and approval after buying the beachfront property in 2007, and twice received approval for past iterations of the project in 2008 and 2011.

The scaled-back design unveiled last fall featured 170 guest rooms instead of 186, including 27 oceanfront rooms and suites, and a free-standing presidential suite.

With approval this week, supervisors reversed the planning commission conditions restricting event capacity — from a proposed 400 to 350 — and reducing Miramar Beach Club membership from 200 to 100, with the eventual goal of raising membership to 300.

A condition was also added to allow excursion buses to idle in areas other than the main entry, the third issue addressed in Caruso’s appeal.

Caruso hopes to begin breaking ground on grading in February 2016, with a grand opening party planned for April 30, 2018. 

At the crux of Caruso’s appeal was arguing supervisors already approved a larger development with more impact and less community support in 2011 — one with more rooms, less parking and a 500-person event capacity instead of the proposed 400.

This time, Miramar proposed 436 total on-site parking spaces for an anticipated peak demand of 401 spots.

Matt Middlebrook, Caruso’s executive vice president of development, said if supervisors weren’t going to approve the 2014 plans without conditions, he hoped they wouldn’t approve it at all so the developer could move forward with the 2011 project.

Caruso already demolished the original Miramar Beach Hotel in 2012, hoping to replace the iconic beachfront landmark established in the late 1880s.

“The same financing will not be available for the new project” with those conditions, Middlebrook said, because it wouldn’t be financially viable.

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

Caruso said it had been an honor to work with the community before inviting supervisors to the Miramar grand opening.

“It’s the right scale,” he said. “It’s the right design. It has overwhelming support in the community.”

The hearing nearly wrapped up before public comment began when supervisors asked staff about parking — “the elephant in the room,” according to First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Assistant planning director Dianne Black put a last-minute addendum up on the PowerPoint screen, which stated the developer would agree to find up to 50 off-site parking spaces if Caruso wanted to up the beach club membership or event attendees.

The item wasn’t yet agreed upon, but was something the county had been exploring with the developer since the appeal filing, Black said.

Locating more parking was something Caruso volunteered at the planning commission, but it wasn’t considered seriously then because staff didn’t think it was enforceable.

Supervisors said they liked the idea, and Middlebrook said he could agree to the condition if officials granted the appeal, changed the parking review timeframe from 36-42 months to 24-36 months and if they removed “in perpetuity” language so Caruso could possibly find space to lease.

“What just happened here?” Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam asked, confused why staff hadn’t mentioned the addendum as a possibility sooner.

While county staff exchanged edits to the addendum on a piece of paper with Caruso’s team, 13 public speakers, mostly Montecito residents, shared opinions ranging from “give me a shovel and I’ll start digging myself” to “future parking spaces don’t make this project viable now.”

Local business owner Pete Jordano of Jordano’s, Inc. said everyone in the room was forgetting something.

“A businessman wants to have parking to help his business,” Jordano said, complimenting Caruso’s resort-business reputation. “If he doesn’t have good parking, he’s going to do whatever it takes. He’s in the parking lot business.”

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he would’ve approved the project without any conditions because he was tired of all the concessions Caruso had to make.

The Miramar would create close to 1,000 jobs in initial construction, he said, with more than 40 permanent positions. The hotel would also generate close to $2 million annually in property taxes and more than $1 million a year in bed taxes.

“I just want to thank you, Mr. Caruso, for sticking with us,” Carbajal said, using his signature “win-win” phrase to describe the deal.

Most of the audience clapped or cheered after the vote, with pats on the back for Caruso, who smiled wide and said he was off to grab a celebratory glass of wine with his team.

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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