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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 12:05 am | Fair 43º


Santa Barbara Planners Decline to Pardon Unpermitted Work at Mesa Apartment Complex

Work done at a Cliff Drive site had not received approval, review, or permits from the city, resulting in violations

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday refused to approve a project to correct extensive unpermitted landscaping and remodeling at a Mesa apartment complex.
The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday refused to approve a project to correct extensive unpermitted landscaping and remodeling at a Mesa apartment complex. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday declined to approve a project to correct extensive unpermitted landscaping and remodeling at a Mesa apartment complex, unanimously voting instead to continue to evaluate the proposal and work with the applicant to align the work with proper city and coastal regulations.

The project at 801–803 Cliff Drive, which is adjacent to Santa Barbara City College, seeks to change and remove some of the unpermitted work, and begin a habitat-restoration plan to conform to the city’s zoning ordinance, its Local Coastal Plan, and the state’s Coastal Act, which regulates work done along California’s coast.

A complaint was filed in July 2014 and led to site inspections by city staff, which determined a list of violations that included the removal of trees and other vegetation as well as unpermitted building remodeling.

The site lies between SBCC's East and West campuses, along an environmentally sensitive habitat area within Honda Valley Creek, which includes the largest monarch butterfly winter aggregation site in Santa Barbara, according to staff.

The unpermitted work included the removal of trees, including 32 eucalyptus, which are a favorite of the monarchs; grading the hillside; replacing an irrigation system; and adding new parking spaces and a traffic control gate.

Per the project, some of the unpermitted work would be outright removed, including prohibited banners and non-compliant lighting, and pilasters. In its place would be new improvements including restoration of the butterflies’ habitat, new trees, and trash and recycling enclosures.

Most of the residents of the 97-unit complex are SBCC students.

The owner of the 6.72-acre property, developer Ed St. George and Unknown Dream LLC, acquired it in 2014 and began making sustainability-oriented changes, according to the project description letter written by applicant Laurel Perez, the vice president and a principal planner at Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services, Inc.

Between the unsanctioned status of the work and its location along the coast, the project is having to jump through a number of permit and application hoops and would have to abide by an exhausting list of conditions for approval.

The commission’s vote of continuance came after five hours of discussion in which commissioners expressed a desire to see progress restoring the habitat despite strong reservations about how the applicant and owner plan to go about it.

“The reality is that we need to get a really good habitat restoration plan in-place because that is the closest thing we can get to basically righting the wrongs,” said Commissioner June Pujo, who along with Commissioner Deborah Schwartz lambasted what they said was considerable habitat destruction and an inadequate plan to mitigate it.

“I don’t like the process or practice of approving (a project) on an ask-for-forgiveness versus permission basis,” Schwartz said.

Much of the public comment the commissioners heard similarly decried the developments and questioned whether or not the proposals actually did meet environmental guidelines and city development standards.

“Misbehavior sets a precedent that it’s better to pay the consequences than be told ‘no’ by the boards and commissions that serve our community,” said Beebe Longstreet, a former commissioner on several city boards.

Despite the commissioners’ and public’s skepticism of the future efficacy of the restoration plan, the proposed changes to the monarchs’ habitat received an endorsement from the biologists who examined the them.

“I think it’s a very good plan for this site, and with all the constraints that are involved, it’s a good plan,” said Daniel Meade, a monarch butterfly expert.

According to Lawrence Hunt, the consulting biologist, the number of butterflies currently at the aggregation site is the same as the number that called it home before the trees were cut.

The project’s path to the Planning Commission included two stops earlier this year at the city’s Architectural Board of Review. The Commission did not set a date for its next hearing with the project.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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