Countering a rumor that the longtime proposal to put a Whole Foods Market on Upper State Street is dead, Santa Barbara city officials and the project’s architect on Monday insisted that the project is going forward as planned.
Indeed, the Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the plan Thursday, which seems to belie the rumor circulating in some local media that the project is no more. On Monday, crews put up poles to indicate the height of what will become the two-story building to replace the Circuit City now anchoring the shopping center on Hitchcock Way.
Another related rumor has yet to be confirmed or refuted: that the organic grocery chain is eyeing another location in Santa Barbara.
City Councilman Das Williams said he has heard that the store might be looking into a spot on lower State Street, possibly near Gutierrez Street.
Williams said he doesn’t know whether the rumor is true, but if it is, he is not amused.
“I think they really owe the community the courtesy of letting us know which sites they are serious about,” he said. “Santa Barbara may like to have one, but definitely not two Whole Foods. Whole Foods as an entity needs to come clean with the community.”
The architect for the Upper State Street Whole Foods project, Brian Cearnal, says that while he is free to comment on the former project – the one he is working on – he can’t comment on the rumor Williams mentioned. Whole Foods representatives could not be reached.
If approved, the original plan for a Whole Foods on Upper State Street would amount to a major makeover. It would involve:
• knocking down Circuit City
• constructing a building in what is now the strip mall’s main parking lot
• putting Whole Foods in the main section of that building
• moving Circuit City into the Hitchcock corner of that building
• putting parking lots beneath and above the Whole Foods building
• building 15 townhouses, two of them affordable; nine would face the two creeks (Arroyo Burro and San Roque) behind what is now Circuit City, four would be above Circuit City’s new location, and two would exist in another lone-standing building on the premises
• demolishing the Taco Bell at 3771 State St.
• moving a bank to a one-story building near where the Taco Bell exists
On Thursday, the Planning Commission will review the city staff report on how the project will affect the area in terms of traffic, the hazards of construction, the environment and other matters.
One of the report’s authors, city project manager Allison Debusk, said she believes that there will be the potential for significant effects, but that they can be dealt with relatively easily.
One of the biggest effects will be traffic. The project is expected to bring 180 more trips to the intersection of Upper State Street and Hitchcock Way. Debusk says the increase isn’t enough to be considered a problem. She added that the developer plans to install traffic lights with right-turn arrows at two clogged intersections: on State Street at Los Positas Road, and on Calle Real at Los Positas Road.
Debusk said the construction near the creek could pose another set of potential environmental issues.
Planning Commissioner George Myers said that so far, he likes what he sees. “They want to make this sort of a hallmark store, in terms of their approach to green building and sustainable projects,” he said. “I know they are at the forefront of that in the industry as retailers.”
Specifically, Myers said he is impressed by how the store plans to put parking not only underground – a popular move among city planners – but on the roof of the building as well. Partly as a result, a sizable portion of the current parking lot will be turned into public open space, he said.
Whole Foods also plans to restore the creek area, according to its Web site.
Myers said he asked staff members about the rumor that the plan was doomed, but none knew it to be true. “From my perspective, the rumor is just a rumor,” he said. “They really want to make this a showcase store they can be proud of. … For them to walk away from it would surprise me.”
The rumor that the original plan had fallen through first appeared on April 21 in the Daily Sound column of food writer John Dickson, who wrote: “As always, these rumors might be completely false or a brilliant forecast of future events. Your call.”