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Miramar inches forward

By   /   Friday, September 5th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Miramar inches forward

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After a tedious and drawn-out process that has resulted in the Aug. 28 conceptual approval of Rick Caruso’s Miramar Hotel redevelopment in Montecito, all parties interested in the project would likely agree with one public commenter, who said he didn’t care what decision the commission made about the resort’s parking and water, “Just get the damn bar open as quickly as possible.”

Despite another full-day hearing at which the planning commission scrutinized the potential negative impacts of the proposed redevelopment of the Miramar Hotel in Montecito, the commission finally and unanimously granted the project conceptual approval, based on conditions that will be further discussed at an Oct. 8 hearing.

Dianne Black, director of development services for Santa Barbara County planning and development, said she expects the commission to take final action at the early fall hearing. But with hefty opposition coming from several Montecito residents, Black said the approval will likely be appealed.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” Matt Middlebrook, vice president of Caruso Affiliated, told the Business Times, although he said the plan still runs the risk of being appealed to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

If that happens, Black said it could be as long as two months before a hearing is scheduled with the board of supervisors, possibly even drawing county approval of the project into 2009.

Still, Middlebrook said if the project receives final approval Oct. 8, the developer plans to move forward on the design and construction process “with a great deal of speed.”

Although he couldn’t estimate when the project would break ground, Middlebrook said it would take approximately 18 months to complete the hotel once construction started.
The planning commission’s agreement to approve the project came after Black’s assurance that conceptual consent did not bind the commission to the approval of specific project details.

“We have large complicated projects in Montecito on occasion … and this one was more challenging than many in what has transpired,” said Planning Commission Chairman Bob Bierig prior to the vote. “There’s sure been a lot of emotion on this – it’s interesting to see. If this was a vacant field, I don’t think we would have gotten nearly the emotion we have out of this…but given the background on this, we find ourselves in a very different situation … people want to see this restored to what it was.”

Early in the afternoon, the commission also voted to rescind its previous request for a subsequent environmental impact report to study concerns regarding the hotel’s water usage.

Some of the major concerns of the Miramar redevelopment plan proposed by Caruso Affiliated – the famed lifestyle shopping center developer owned by Rick Caruso and responsible for The Grove in Los Angeles – have included water usage and its impact on Montecito’s water supply; parking in residential neighborhoods near the resort; architectural style fitting with the historic Miramar structure; building heights; scale; drainage and flood risks.

“We’ve tried all along to listen carefully to the community and respond accordingly by the revisions in our plan and we did it again and think it was clearly a big help,” Middlebrook said.
Bierig addressed the project developers, thanking them for making changes to their proposal to assuage the community’s concerns.

“I am reminded that Montecito didn’t just happen. It’s a wonderful place and the reason we like it is because of the pain we put people through – I don’t mean intentionally painful, but the winnowing process to reach a consensus,” Beirig said. “I am now very encouraged we have a project before us that, albeit not perfect, has gone a long ways toward being the thing that will fit into … the community.”

Caruso’s changes included reducing the hotel’s main building height by 4 feet and cutting the height of another building, cutting the number of rooms from 204 to 192, moving two-story buildings out of the setbacks along Jameson Road, and cutting total square footage by more than 6,000 square feet to approximately 170,000 square feet.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome. We worked hard to address the comments by the planning commissioners from the Aug. 6 meeting and they were happy with the reaction to the proposed changes we made and are pleased with their decision to not proceed with the [supplemental environmental impact report] with water,” Middlebrook said. “We look forward to getting back in front of them and hopefully getting to final approval in the next few weeks. It’s a big step on the project.”

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