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Santa Barbara Rebuffs Parker Family’s Bid to Transfer Cabrillo Hotel Room Development Rights

After 4-hour hearing, Planning Commission votes to extend development agreement but insists on keeping it in the family

The family of the late Fess Parker, the developer of the Santa Barbara waterfront hotel that bears his name, won a 10-year extension to build a second hotel nearby. The Planning Commission turned down a request for the authority to transfer development rights to The Fess Parker-A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort. Click to view larger
The family of the late Fess Parker, the developer of the Santa Barbara waterfront hotel that bears his name, won a 10-year extension to build a second hotel nearby. The Planning Commission turned down a request for the authority to transfer development rights to The Fess Parker-A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

It’s the last big piece of undeveloped real estate on Santa Barbara’s waterfront. With so many picturesque landscapes — the Pacific Ocean, miles of wide and mostly empty beach, Chase Palm Park and The Fess Parker-A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort — it’s a spacious expanse that’s easy to miss while cruising East Cabrillo Boulevard.

But for the last several years, the City of Santa Barbara has been waiting, hoping and expecting the owners, the late Fess Parker’s family, to put a hotel on the property.

The family, however, is not ready to build at the site, and instead wants more time. A lot of it.

The Parkers are asking city officials for a 10-year-extension to develop the land and an amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow them to transfer to the DoubleTree Hilton the ability to build some of the hotel rooms on the vacant site, in the 500 block of East Cabrillo Boulevard.

The Planning Commission wrestled with the proposal last Thursday, in a four-hour meeting that tested the limits of some of the commissioners.

The commissioners eventually voted 4-1 to support the idea of the extension, with John Campanella, Sheila Lodge, June Pujo and Deborah Schwartz in favor of it and Jay Higgins in dissent. Commissioners Michael Jordan and Addison Thompson left the meeting before the vote.

The commissioners decided to take no action on whether to amend the zoning ordinance to allow the hotel rooms to be assigned to the DoubleTree Hilton, which now owns the neighboring 24-acre resort Parker built in 1986.

Higgins indicated he supported the idea of amending the zoning ordinance to allow the room transfer, calling much of the skepticism of the potential transfer “ridiculous.” He also suggested that Pujo meet with staff ahead of time rather than take up more than an hour during a public meeting to ask questions about a project.

The City Council will decide the fate of the project later this spring.

Right now, as part of the development agreement, the Parker family has the ability to build as many as 150 hotel rooms on the site.

“I think this is a slippery slope,” Schwartz said.

The Parker family has a long-standing approval to build a second hotel across South Calle César Chávez from The Fess Parker-A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort at 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd. Click to view larger
The Parker family has a long-standing approval to build a second hotel across South Calle César Chávez from The Fess Parker-A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort at 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The approved hotel project allows for a 150-room hotel with banquet facilities. The building would be two- to three-stories tall, with a maximum of 45 feet.

The Parkers received approval to build the hotel more than two decades ago, and made several street, gutter and curb and sidewalk improvements in 1995 and 1996.

The developer completed an expansion to Chase Palm Park and also pays an annual $62,000 fee to the city. More than $124,000 was paid to the city for the traffic roundabout added at the intersection of Highway 101, Cabrillo Boulevard and Coast Village Road.

As part of an earlier agreement, the developer in 2014 completed construction on The Wayfarer, a youth hostel at 12 E. Montecito St.

But the proposed hotel at the corner of Cabrillo and South Calle César Chávez remains. 

Lodge, Pujo and Schwartz expressed concerns about allowing the developer to transfer its hotel rights to the DoubleTree Hilton, fearing that it could set a precedent.

Pujo said an approval might signal to a future planning commission that a developer can transfer the hotel rooms to another site.

“It does give the appearance to a future decision maker that they are supposed to go light on The Fess Parker if they apply for those changes,”​ she said.

Suzanne Elledge, owner of Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services Inc., urged the city to agree to the extension and support the Parker family’s plan. She said the city already is a “partner” of sorts in the hotel, because of the 12 percent hotel bed tax that the city would receive for the new rooms.

“You get all the upside without the downside,” she said.

The comment stopped Lodge, who issued a rebuttal.

“I don’t think good planning should rely on the financial gain that may or may not occur,” 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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