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Carrillo Street Gas Station Design Raises Concerns at Santa Barbara Planning Commission

USA Gas wins conditional-use permit for mini-mart, but commissioners debate compliance with El Pueblo Viejo design guidelines

USA Gas plans to convert its service station at 340 W. Carrillo St. into a mini-mart, but two Santa Barbara planning commissioners believe the building should comply with El Pueblo Viejo historic district design rules.
USA Gas plans to convert its service station at 340 W. Carrillo St. into a mini-mart, but two Santa Barbara planning commissioners believe the building should comply with El Pueblo Viejo historic district design rules.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo )

The highly visible “gateway” USA Gas station on the corner of Carrillo and Castillo streets is getting a makeover — from service station to mini-mart — but some people would like to see the structure look more “Santa Barbara.”

The station, originally built in 1961, is located within the city’s El Pueblo Viejo District, but it lacks the Spanish architecture typically associated with new buildings in the Landmark District.

El Pueblo Viejo District guidelines are outlined in an 84-page document and include architectural rules for everything from awnings and arches to fountains and decorative metal.

The gas station plans to add landscaping and encase three service bays in aluminum and glass windows in its transition to a mini-mart. It also wants to eliminate an exit driveway onto Carrillo Street and shift a Castillo Street exit farther from the corner, moves that raised questions about safety.

The Planning Commission recently approved a conditional-use permit for the project on a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Michael Jordan and Sheila Lodge voting against it.

“This is an area of town that demands a better project than this will be,” Jordan said. “The sense I am getting from this project is that it is all about resignation.

 “Something is there in appearance right now and we are just going to make it better, and we are resigned to the fact that we can’t bring it up to our normal standards within (El Pueblo Viejo).”

The gas station’s proposed changes are technically not a project, other than covering to a mini-mart from a service station.

Jordan, however, said the current building is “neglected” and that approving a conditional-use permit for another 50 years at this particular location “does not sit right with the process.”

He said he would be happy with even an “​EPV-light” treatment.

The Planning Commission approved USA Gas’ conditional-use permit over concerns of two members that the gas station doesn’t comply with historic district design standards. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
The Planning Commission approved USA Gas’ conditional-use permit over concerns of two members that the gas station doesn’t comply with historic district design standards. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Commissioner June Pujo disagreed. She said the gas station’s permit is not a project and that it is not starting with a clean slate.

“It would be difficult for me to require a complete remodel that would meet the standards of EPV,” she said.

“I just don’t think that cleaning up the paperwork and allowing the internal tenant improvements for a mini-mart really gives us that kind of nexus to basically start over with the design of the gas station.”

She said the city can’t open the door to a watered-down EPV design.

“If you do a quasi-improvement to get the look, if you squint your eyes, it is really not what is intended for that corridor,”​ Pujo said. “It kind of has to be the real thing.”

Lodge noted that nearby apartment buildings, Casa de Las Fuentes at 922 Castillo St. and El Carrillo at 315 W. Carrillo St., were models within the EPV. She joined Jordan in voting against the gas station’s permit.

Commissioner Deborah Schwartz said she doesn’t view the aesthetics of the gas station as being worthy of a gateway to Santa Barbara. Still, she said people must remember that it’s a gas station and that the building is not historic-looking enough to warrant a wholesale change.

“I was in Los Angeles yesterday and I saw many gas stations built in that era, midcentury, that to me are iconic designs of the midcentury, Americana gas station, (and) are worthy of either preservation, protection or rehabilitation,” she said. “To me ... this is not one.”

Schwartz was skeptical of eliminating the corner driveway to Carrillo Street, with concerns it could create traffic impacts on Castillo Street.

“I just hope we are not pushing the problem out into another area of the greater intersection,” she said.

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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