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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 2:20 am | Fair 48º


After Haggling Over Traffic Signal, Santa Barbara Commission Backs $50 Million Museum of Art Project

Calling it one of Santa Barbara's iconic destinations, the city's Planning Commission in a four-hour meeting Thursday voted unanimously to support the Museum of Art's $50 million expansion and renovation.

Although commissioners haggled over the height of the planned fourth floor, the removal of two mature coast live oak trees and a change to the Anapamu Street midblock traffic signal, the commissioners said the project overall was positive for the community.

"I am really looking forward to this project," former mayor and current planning commissioner Sheila Lodge said. "I think it is going to be a great improvement."

The 8,000-square-foot expansion is designed to increase gallery space and create a rooftop pavilion that the museum would rent to outside groups to make money. Plans also call for seismic retrofits of the building, parts of which are more than 100 years old. 

The commissioners' biggest concerns, however, centered less on the inside or roof of the building, and more on the changes that would affect the public space outside the museum's walls, on the corner of State and Anapamu streets. 

The project includes a new art receiving facility on Anapamu Street with a freight elevator and a hydraulic lift. Currently, art is delivered from a truck onto a forklift.

The museum will need to move a transformer and remove two coast live oak trees to make room for the hydraulic lift area. Some of the commissioners wanted the City of Santa Barbara to find a place for the trees on public property, possibly in the nearby Central Library plaza. 

The city, however, wanted no part of managing the trees, particularly during a time of drought. 

To accommodate the hydraulic lift and new receiving area, the city wants to install a traffic signal that over hangs over the middle of the street, instead of the traditional signal pole currently in the middle of the block.

The city wants to move the light to hang over the middle of the street so it's visible to oncoming motorists, who might otherwise have their views blocked by trucks stopped at the receiving area delivering art or other items.

The commissioners were concerned that a mid-block traffic mast arm that hangs over the street might be out of character for the area.

"Where the project still falls short is in the treatment of public spaces adjacent to it," Commissioner June Pujo said. "This is an extremely important block of the downtown."

Initially, Pujo said she couldn't support the project with the proposed traffic mast signal.

"I would like to see the applicant and staff take some time to sort out some of the details," Pujo said. "I want to see some of the options of not having a signal mast. I would not like to make that intrusion in the public area of downtown."

Assistant City Attorney Scott Vincent interjected that the commission could not legally tell the city's traffic engineer what type of traffic signal to put in.

It looked like Pujo would be on the losing end of the vote until commission chairwoman Deborah Schwartz worked out a compromise, suggesting that the traffic engineer "exhaust all design possibilities prior to implementing a mast arm."

Museum of Art board member Bob Marshall said the public will benefit greatly from the new museum.

"The experience of visiting the museum will totally change," Marshall 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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