Planning Commissioners approved a conditional use permit to allow a non-ocean-oriented business into a Santa Barbara waterfront property after owners said they have not been able to lease it since spending millions of dollars in improvements.
Verde Ventures LLC has invested about $6.5 million into the property at 35 North Calle Cesar Chavez, which is in the light manufacturing zone and should host ocean-related uses, according to a staff report.
Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the permit at a Dec. 20 meeting, and allow a lumber and supply business, Building Materials and Construction Solutions, to go into the space.
The site is vacant now, but past uses include a cabinet shop, storage, auto repair, and office building, which were all legal non-conforming uses after the city changed the zoning from manufacturing to ocean-related in 1986.
Commercial real estate broker Brad Frohling, of Radius Group, told Planning Commissioners that he has tried to lease the property but could not do it, and that marine uses in that area of town are “functionally obsolete.”
He said he has been actively marketing the property, with three brand new industrial marine-related buildings, since April and has not had a single inquiry for marine-related uses.
“In real estate we talk about the highest and best use of a piece of property and by artificially saying that the only use you can have on this property is something that won’t bring in and can’t command the economic revenue that the property would demand, we are not getting the highest and best use of the property,” Planning Commissioner Addison Thompson said during the meeting.
“It is pretty obvious and the record shows that the property owners spent a lot of money and remediated a polluted site and now in that part of town we have a much better piece of property,” he added.
Attorney Doug Fell, who spoke on behalf of Verde Ventures, said obtaining a conditional use permit won’t prohibit an ocean-related business from operating out of those buildings in the future.
“The request we are making is not going to preclude future (ocean-marine) uses because we are asking for a CUP for one tenant that is coming in,” Fell said.
“Were we to have an opportunity to economically in the future, after our current tenant vacates, to lease to a seafood processing facility that paid an economic value that justified our investment in the property, we would go back. We do not feel that we are precluding the future use of the ocean-dependent or related uses.”
The city’s zoning states that the type of use in the ocean-oriented, light industrial area should be boat sales, storage and repair, marine storage, public parking lots, sail manufacturing and repair, seafood processing and wholesaling, household hazardous waste collection facility, and other ocean-related uses.
“Communities change, our cities evolve and we can’t anticipate new businesses, new economic interests, new societal values and priorities,” Commissioner Deborah Schwartz said. “Life is changing is too fast. I feel that we are hamstrung and boxed into an outmoded and outdated regulatory structure which is this zoning designation.”
The request for a conditional use permit sparked a broader discussion about the future of ocean-related uses in Santa Barbara.
During public comment, several people asked the city to find a way to help ocean-related industries acquire and lease land in the area, which has become too expensive and difficult for some of them to afford.
“Gentrification is winning out over the shoreside needs of our local fishing businesses, and yet working waterfronts are what really make coastal California communities special and unique,” said Kim Selkoe, who recently started Get Hooked Seafood.
“Lumber yards do not do that. We need properties like this to be available.”