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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 9:15 am | Fair 45º


Santa Barbara Council Upholds Coast Village Road Condo Project

A 4-3 vote dooms the appeal of opponents of the three-story building that will replace the gas station at the corner of Coast Village and Olive Mill roads.

Eight market-rate condominium units make up the Coast Village Road Gateway Project, a three-story building to be built at the corner of Coast Village and Olive Mill roads. (Coast Village Road Gateway Project rendering)

In a narrow vote, the Santa Barbara City Council gave the go-ahead Tuesday for a local businessman to replace a gas station in Montecito with a three-story mixed-use condominium complex.

The project at 1298 Coast Village Road calls for building eight market-rate condo units at the site of the Olive Mill 76 Service Center, in a strip of Montecito that falls under the jurisdiction of the city of Santa Barbara. The site in question — across the street from the three-story Montecito Inn — is often referred to as the gateway to Montecito.

Specifically, the council Tuesday voted 4-3 to deny the opponents’ appeal of the Planning Commission’s March approval of the project.

Although the council ordered developer John Price to do some additional work with the Architectural Board of Review to reduce the building’s bulk, the decision could be the final word on how tall the building will be: three stories, not two, as opponents were requesting.

The debate, which packed the council chambers, essentially pitted opponents who said the project’s size would block mountain views, bring more traffic to Coast Village Road and — in the case of the closest residential neighbor — infringe on their rights to privacy against supporters who said the project was more aesthetically pleasing than the alternative: a bigger gas station.

The council itself was split on the question of height.

The majority said they were OK with a three-story building, which will reach 35 feet, or 10 feet under what’s allowable by municipal code.

Councilman Grant House added that he appreciates the modest size of the dwellings, whose units on the third story will have low, eight-foot ceilings.

“There’s plenty of very large homes in Montecito,” House said. “To have some that are more modestly sized seems to me something we should support.”

Mayor Marty Blum and Councilwoman Iya Falcone voted no because they said they could not support the three-story component.

“The reason there is so many people here is this is a real precedent,” Blum said. “I don’t want the tallest building to be in the corner” of Coast Village Road.

Also voting no was Councilman Dale Francisco. However, his biggest concern had to do with another matter: a council-imposed requirement that Price pay the city $136,000 for a fund that will promote housing projects affordable to the middle class.

The requirement, suggested by House, was meant to get the developer to conform to the spirit of a proposed amendment to the 4-year-old “inclusionary housing” ordinance, which aims to help retain middle-class workers in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.

At Tuesday’s meeting, a whopping 106 people filled out speaker slips to give the council their two cents.

Perhaps because Blum implored the group to refrain from repeating the comments of others in the interest of saving time, most refrained from speaking, although they revealed their leanings on the speaker slips, which Blum read aloud.

The vast majority were in favor of the project.

Richard Berti, who described himself as the owner of another property on Coast Village Road, went so far as to ask the council to allow Price to make the building even taller.

“Give him another three feet,” Berti said. “He’s had to shrink his height (on the third floor) to eight feet, and today that’s just not what people want.”

But there were some detractors in the audience. Among them was preservation activist Kellam de Forest.

“How in God’s name can anyone think that this three-story building won’t disfigure this city and detract from its beauty?” he asked.

Altogether, there were four separate appellants — a rarity for the council. They were Friends of Outer State Street, Save Coast Village Road, Delfina Mott and the nearest neighbors to the north of the property, Sandy and John Wallace.

The Wallaces had taken particular exception to Price’s request that the city disregard how zoning rules call for a 17-foot buffer between the proposed project and their property. Under Price’s proposal, the second floor of his new building would come within 10 feet of the their property.

The council did not care for this idea, but a spokesman for Price’s project said he intends to do away with that component.

Price, who is primarily in the business of operating gas stations, has said the current station isn’t profitable. He said his other option is to double the hours of operation of the current Union 76 station to 24, and increase by six times the amount of gas pumped from there daily. The property’s current zoning allows such a gas station.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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