The Santa Barbara Planning Commission wasn’t pleased with Santa Barbara developer Ed St. George’s proposed new three-story hotel on West Montecito Street.
The commission vote to deny the project last week was 5-1, with board member Addison Thompson dissenting. Board member Jay Higgins was absent.
At the Planning Commission’s 4-hour meeting on Aug. 15, Thompson didn’t ask questions or offer comment.
Commissioners denied plans to build a hotel, a coffee shop with an outdoor patio, a parking garage and a rooftop deck on the northwest corner of West Montecito and Bath streets.
The 30,830-square-foot building was proposed for two lots at 302 and 308 W. Montecito St., across from The Neighborhood Bar & Grill, a carwash and other commercial purposes.
The site is south of the Union Pacific railroad tracks,
The project called for four apartments and 517 square-feet of office space to be demolished.
It would have included a hotel with 32 rooms, a 1,674-square-foot coffee shop and a parking garage with 11 surface parking spaces and a parking lift system to accommodate 33 vehicles.
Members of the Planning Commission voiced concerns about the large size of the hotel rooms, the project’s overall size, neighborhood compatibility, and the potential for the hotel development to be turned into student housing in the future.
Some of the hotel rooms included partial kitchens and living rooms.
“It’s not what the community needs,” Commissioner Sheila Lodge said, adding that the project is not consistent with the principles of “sound community planning.”
About 570 hotel rooms are proposed or permitted in the city, Lodge said, adding that Santa Barbara currently has more than 3,180 hotel rooms.
This project would involve demolishing four existing “affordable” housing units, something the city “ desperately needs,” Lodge said.
The big questions commissioners considered were: “Do we want housing?” or “Do we want hotels?”
Commissioner Michael Jordan said he’s “perplexed at the configuration of the hotel rooms… and the amount of lounge and hang-around space.”
“I’ve never been to a hotel that had the configuration of most of the rooms you are going to propose,” he continued.
Jordan said the project has a lot of lounge or empty space that could be used to reduce the size bulk and scale of the proposed building in Santa Barbara’s West Beach neighborhood.
“I call this a problematic project,” he said. “I don’t say it’s a problem, but if it walks like a problem, talks like a problem and looks like a problem — it’s going to be problematic.”
Commissioner Deborah Schwartz, a renter, said she’s not opposed of the general design of the project, but it’s not appropriate for the location.
Building a new hotel isn’t a solution for relieving the housing crisis in Santa Barbara, she said. The city is considering developing more rental units to accommodate state mandates and the future.
“We don’t have a hotel room shortage,” Schwartz said. “Statewide, we have a housing crisis. What is our role? Where is the leadership?”
Schwartz’s said her No. 1 goal is to get housing projects approved and constructed.
She acknowledged transient-occupancy taxes and sales taxes are important, but these do “not overshadow the desperate need and the moral imperative to get housing built. Building hotels and adding to hotel rooms is not a moral imperative.”
Trish Allen of Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services, Inc. offered brief opening remarks.
“I’m aware of the community concerns,” Allen said. “I share those same concerns… in terms of continuing to produce and emphasize housing production in our community.”
Commissioner Lesley Wiscomb said she has “huge” concerns with the project. The city doesn’t need big hotel rooms and roof decks that only serve hotel patrons, she said.
She didn’t want the hotel becoming apartments for college students. Santa Barbara City College is located less than a mile away from the hotel.
The room layout mirrors a dormitory-style layout, Wiscomb said.
“This is suspiciously looking like an orange when it’s supposed to be an apple,” she said.
“It seems it’s a hotel project that possibly will go residential with college students,” she continued. “I have to be honest about that.”
Wiscomb suggests the applicant meet with concerned residents and work together.
During the public comment period, about 10 people took to the podium to oppose the project. Everyone who spoke urged the commission to deny the proposed hotel, citing impacts to surrounding neighbors, parking problems, traffic congestion, noise, sea-level rise, air quality, and other worries.
“You have a room full of people opposed to this project,” Wiscomb told project planners. “Find out what their concerns are and work with them.”
Activist Anna Marie Gott said the project destroys four “truly affordable” housing units and creates low-wage service jobs in the tourism sector.
Resident Mary Turley, a member of Allied Neighborhoods Association of Santa Barbara, said the design of the project doesn’t belong. The project’s mass, bulk and scale are “out of character” with the area.
“The proposed building design is better suited to Newport Beach (California) than the centuries-old heart of an area of classic California cottages, Spanish-style homes and hotels, as well as some Mission (revival) and Pueblo (revival) style buildings close by,” Turley said. “This area could use some improvements, yet this isn’t the right one.
Members of the Architectural Board of Review examined the design of the project eight times, according to city planner Kathleen Kennedy.