One of Santa Barbara’s most prominent and visible auto dealerships is planning some changes to expand showroom space.
Santa Barbara Auto Group — which features Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi brands — is proposing several upgrades to its 4½-acre site at 401 S. Hope Ave. along Calle Real across from the northbound Highway 101 exit and entrance ramps.
The dealership wants to add a new portico for Porsche, a 1,708-square-foot electric vehicle maintenance building and about 2,900 square feet of combined space for the Porsche/Mercedes and BMW/Audi buildings.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the changes at Thursday’s meeting.
As part of the project, Santa Barbara Auto Group must also bring the site up to code for bicycle parking, and create a total of 34 bike parking spaces. There currently are 11 spaces.
The company has the option to request that the public works director waive the bicycle parking requirement since members of the public typically aren’t riding bikes to the dealership to buy cars.
Mike Ramsey of San Marcos-based Lusardi Construction Co., a spokesman for Santa Barbara Auto Group, said the dealership has bike racks and a storage area for employees.
“If we have to have 34 bicycle racks as part of the project to let it move forward, we’ll do whatever we have to do,” he said. “We’re not trying to fight it. We’re just trying to move forward.”
Ramsey said the company has been working on the project for “quite some time.”
“To put it off for adding bicycle racks, is not their position,” he said. “They will do whatever they have to do.”
Commissioner Jay Higgins said it makes sense to bring the site up to conformance.
“If it was a different kind of commercial center you might have more people riding bikes, but then again we do have a lot of impacted parking in the area,” he said. “Those employees who do ride their bikes should be encouraged to do that.”
The bicycle discussion also opened the door to a larger conversation about bicycle circulation in the neighborhood.
The project fronts Calle Real, which has no formal bike lanes on that stretch of street.
Tony Boughman, a planner for the city, said the area is still safe for bicyclists.
“I ride my bike through there a lot commuting to work and the roadway is fairly widem and beyond the white line there’s a good bit of room,” he said. “There’s not a bike lane, per se, but it’s ridable.”
Planning commissioner Lesley Wiscomb said the area should be looked at in the context of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.
“It’s worth looking at the Bicycle Master Plan,” she said. “I think that is an important element in the whole discussion.”
The Planning Commission approved the dealership in 1986, and subsequently approved three additions to the property.