The Solvang City Council voted to axe the Board of Architectural Review, but contended the primary role will remain the same for a new committee with expanded membership.
On Monday night, the council voted to eliminate the BAR and move toward creating a Branding and Design Committee (BDC) they say would include many of the same duties of its predecessor.
The BAR is responsible for signs, facades, exterior colors and other factors to maintain the Danish village appearance in downtown Solvang.
The proposal has sparked opposition from some in the community, prompting strong comments from council members Monday.
“When we came on board all we were trying to do was streamline things and make it easier for people to get things done in this town,” said Councilman Robert Clarke, who as mayor pro-tem filled in for an absent mayor Monday night. “We stepped on the third rail from hell and upset two very nice little cliques of nice people that we became the devil over this stupid thing.
“And it’s really pissing me off because all we were trying to do was make things easier for the residents of Solvang,” Clarke added.
The council began considering the BAR’s fate when awnings delayed the opening of a wine-theme business, he said.
“Where the vitriol came from I just don’t understand,” Clarke said. “I’m done with the BAR. I want this thing finished and I want it done.”
BDC membership would include three people with professional expertise in architecture, design, architectural history, urban design, and Danish culture. The remaining two public members may represent any of those fields.
However, membership on the new board would be open to all Santa Ynez Valley residents, not just those living in the city of Solvang.
Councilwoman Karen Waite rejected complaints about the lack of transparency regarding plans to “switch up” the BAR.
“I have never ever in my life been faced with such opposition when trying to do something that will benefit this community and I am not going to back down on this,” Waite said.
Councilman Chris Djernaes claimed the BAR had been “weaponized” and said the latest changes were aimed at ending what he contended was abuse of the system.
“I think this is a good step forward,” he said.
The council voted 3-1 to approve the change. Councilman Daniel Johnson voted against the motion; Mayor Ryan Toussaint was absent.
Before the vote, a long-time community leader challenged staff and council members’ contention the BAR operated illegally since it wasn’t included in the city Municipal Code.
Aaron Petersen pointed out the city’s municipal code includes the BAR with three pages on the topic.
Petersen also noted the BAR and design guidelines exist in the city’s General Plan, as a special eighth element that spells out the design requirements.
“I would submit that if you change the BAR you change the General Plan,” Petersen said. “This whole element of our General Plan goes through what we have mockingly said doesn’t exist in our design guidelines even though our code says design guidelines, even though our General Plan says design guidelines as an eighth element.
“Not many cities have an eighth element. We have an eighth element adopted,” he said.
He maintained the General Plan spells out design requirements using the term “shall,” and not “may,” while repeatedly referring to the BAR.
Eliminating the BAR would force an update of the General Plan, Petersen said.
“It’s mind-blowing we went down this process,” he said.
City Attorney Chris Wullbrandt disagreed that eliminating the BAR would require an update of the General Plan.
“I don’t think that calling it by a different set of three different initials changes or requires the General Plan activities discussed,” Wullbrandt said.
ElsaMarie Lund, a BAR member for approximately six years, said those serving on the panel had not been notified about or included in discussions regarding the BAR’s future or changes to design guidelines.
“Since no one from the city has communicated with the current BAR members with where we stand, it all seems very secretive and political…,” she said. “The City Council always talks about transparency yet you offer very little of it.”