COAST VILLAGE UPDATE

Business Association President Steps Down

Rodney Gould, who was appointed as president last year to reinvigorate a languishing Coast Village Business Association, stepped down last week. At the Association’s April 21 meeting, Gould announced he would be leaving his post as public relations and corporate sales manager for the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel to become nutrition manager at Goleta Valley Hospital. The Business Association’s bylaws require members to resign if they accept a job out of the area.

“It’s a sad day for me,” Gould said during the meeting. “I wish I didn’t have to do this because I really enjoyed being on this Association.”

The Association’s vice-president Danny Copus, general manager of the Montecito Inn, will take over as president.

Gould came in as president last March as the Association was suffering sagging numbers in membership and needed a kick-start in energy.

The Association had been less active in organizing events and in advocating for its interests with City officials. Gould was seen as a catalyst in bringing back participation from Coast Village businesses and revitalizing the Association’s persona.

During Gould’s 13 months, the Association was more engaged in lobbying politicians for its interests. For instance, in February it endorsed a letter to City Public Works supporting various traffic implementations on Coast Village Road, such as a widened sidewalk and removal of parking on the southern portion of the street, across from Vons. It has also been instrumental in negotiations with commercial property owner John Price, who plans to convert his 76 Station into a condo and office complex.

For several months, the Association has been researching the possible rewards of a Business Improvement District, a fund that would be supported by every Coast Village business designed to improve the street. Business Association members see the district as an opportunity to receive more services from the City and establish more clout in the eyes of decision makers.

In recent Association meetings, more City leaders have been present than usual, including City Councilwoman Iya Falcone and Mayor Marty Blum. Councilman Brian Barnwell is a regular fixture at meetings, providing guidance on key issues such as the formation of a commercial overlay that would define the Association’s vision for Coast Village.

Danny Copus said he wants to build upon Gould’s legacy and execute goals spawned during his predecessor’s tenure.

“Hopefully, [the Association] will continue to grow,” Copus said. “Rodney has done an amazing job, from what I’ve seen, in building this snowball. Our job now is to push it down the hill.”

Overlay District First Draft

The Coast Village Business Association presented its first draft for a semi-rural commercial overlay, a document that acts as a planning constitution for the neighborhood and requires authentication from the Santa Barbara City Council.

If approved, the three-page document would be a planning reference guide for decision makers in matters dealing with Coast Village. Business Association members see the overlay as a way “to protect and enhance the existing pedestrian-friendly, semi-rural atmosphere of the Coast Village Road commercial district.”

New Association president Danny Copus said the overlay “is an important thing to have, and if the majority of businesses in the area approve it, it can be a very effective plan.”

Maureen Murphy, the Association’s treasurer, said the overlay is crucial in solidifying Coast Village Road’s identity and attracting more attention from decision makers. “We felt we were having problems getting services from the City,” Murphy said. “We don’t have a Marshall Rose (executive director of the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization) getting up and speaking for us. We need to be careful about changes that are going to occur in the next ten to twenty years.”

The overlay is partly in response to worry among Coast Village merchants about large-scale development projects that could alter the ambience of the business sector. This includes a mixed-used three-story structure proposed in place of the 76 Station, which some business owners have complained would create unwanted traffic impacts and would block mountain views. Concerns about such outcomes were intimated in the original overlay draft.

“The Coast Village Business Association is concerned that development pressures are pushing development on a scale of downtown Santa Barbara, with its many new three- or four-story structures,” the document reads. “The CVBA feels that the loss of mountain views, solar access to the road, coupled with traffic impacts, parking and other constraints of larger downtown-style developments will imperil the pedestrian semi-rural quality on CVR (Coast Village Road).”

Warner Team Presents Country Club Designs

Representatives from Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts met before the Business Association to unveil preliminary plans to renovate the Montecito Country Club.

Along with the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel restoration, this one may be Warner’s most ambitious. Warner officials have so far been reluctant to attach a money figure to the project. Country club officials say all work would be done without any increase in membership.

Warner officials said it could be a year before the project is heard by a planning body. If approved, construction would last two years.

David Van Hoy, the architect assigned to Warner’s Coral Casino and Rancho San Marcos rehabilitations, has conjured up a masterwork that pays homage to Bertram Goodhue’s original Spanish Colonial Revival design and adapts the landscape to its natural hillside setting.

A huge portion of the efforts will be put in on the golf course, a layout that received poor marks from nearly every club member who filled out a recent survey. At 120 acres, the course is nearly 50% smaller than average and the space limitations have spawned golf holes with awkward sloping angles, blind shots off the tee and unsafe conditions. Kikuyu, an invasive breed of grass from Uganda, grows on the environs and hasn’t proven to be conducive as a golf surface. Van Hoy considers the Country Club “an interesting and challenging property.”

Working with golf legend Jack Nicklaus and his design firm, Van Hoy said the goal would be to improve views, add length, incorporate the property’s natural water areas and create a safer alignment of trees and greens.

While there have been reports that the course would be made available to Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel guests, Van Hoy and staff were clear in their assertions that only Sandpiper and Rancho San Marcos would be promoted to Biltmore customers. “To dispel rumor, this is not the golf course for the Biltmore,” Van Hoy said.

For the clubhouse, once fondly referred to as “Saint Golfus,” architects aim to re-emphasize Goodhue’s design by performing cosmetic touch-ups on less authentic portions of the building that stem from past remodels and augmentations. This involves patterning and ornamentation on the building’s façade and its tower, which during years of renovation have been gradually stripped down to white plaster. In the new transformation, Van Hoy said he wants to “channel Goodhue” by putting balconies back on the building and changing window proportions, adhering to a holistic notion that respects the 1918 blueprint.

Describing the parking lot as a “shopping center environment” where “most of the asphalt comes right up to the front door,” Van Hoy said he and the owner prefer moving cars underground. With a below-grade parking facility that stores up to 400 vehicles, Warner can capitalize on the freed up space to build new nine new residential homes that would offset significant costs incurred during the restoration. Each of the residents in the homes would be offered club memberships, Van Hoy noted.

But the project isn’t just about broad strokes and fine details. A lot of it is about conforming to a new philosophy that Van Hoy considers more efficient. Resting on a crest where on most days the vision of a twinkling Bird Refuge and the scope of the channel seize the eyes, the country club does indeed promise some of the finest and most complete views in the area. Paradoxically, Van Hoy said club facilities don’t give a full advantage to enjoy them. “One thing that’s missing at the Montecito Country Club is that with all the views, there’s no place to relax” and take in the panorama, he said. So designers plan to enhance views by upgrading the outdoor patio and making better use of clubhouse rooms.

While the country club isn’t a City Landmark, it is a county architectural icon, and, like any Warner project, its renovation may attract pointed opposition. Van Hoy said they haven’t faced any early roadblocks, but at the same time, they’re not taking any chances. “I never know what to expect from the community, like who’s going to come out of the woodwork,” he said. “We’re moving very carefully.”

To keep any new work historically honest, Warner recently hired Post-Hazeltine Associates, the same firm that worked on the Coral Casino.

The Business Association’s treasurer Maureen Murphy said she liked the designs and told Van Hoy the Association would draft a letter of endorsement to City planners.

“I’m familiar with Warner’s plans, so I’m on board with whatever he does,” she said.

Maxwell to Sell Summit Home

Jack Maxwell, the developer whose bid to convert his Summit Road property into three developable lots was turned down two months ago by the County Board of Supervisors, is reportedly selling his home.

On April 26, Maxwell held an “open house” on his 1.8-acre property that was open only to real estate agents, according to people who said they were turned away when they tried making visits.

The impending purchase of Maxwell’s home, which he bought in 2002 for more than $2 million, will bring to an end to what was a bitter saga between himself and his larger neighborhood. For a year and a half, residents of the area and homeowners groups have fought against Maxwell, accusing him of greed and charging that additional development on his property would cause dangerous precedents.

The Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 4-1, turned down an appeal made by Maxwell, despite threats from the developer that he would sue the County if he wasn’t approved.

Quiet Zone Stays on Track

A push by County Public Works to enforce a no-train-horn quiet zone for all of Montecito is gaining momentum and could reach a County Board of Supervisors agenda by the end of this year, according to Gary Smart, a County traffic engineer. Since a Federal Railroad Administration ruling made last April allowing communities to choose whether trains should sound their horns at rail crossings, officials from the County and City of Santa Barbara have sought the exemption.

Implementation of the silent zone requires the Board of Supervisors to draft a measure.

Several residents living near the train tracks have pledged support for an exemption, complaining the horns keep them awake at night. Some have speculated the horns are louder and more sustained in Montecito than in other areas.

While many have privately supported a quiet zone, officials from local agencies have been reluctant to publicly back the measure because of the legal risks.

Tee Shirt Deadline on May 10

Submissions for the 11th Annual Village Fourth tee shirt contest are due on May 10, says Diane Pannkuk, event founder and chair. All Montecito students, grades kindergarten through sixth grade, are eligible to participate. Drawings of any patriotic design must be turned in on 8.5-inch-by-11-inch paper. At printing, the words “Montecito Village Fourth, 2006” will be added on the shirt. The contest winner will receive two tee shirts with their design on them, and they will have the opportunity to lead Montecito’s Fourth of July Parade.

For more info call Diane Pannkuk at 969-9005.

CHANNEL DRIVE MEDIAN HINGES ON FIRE CHIF’S CONSENT

Representatives of Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts last week presented the Montecito Fire Protection District with road improvement plans they believe will make Channel Drive safer and more attractive. Among the additions are the conversion of the north side walkway from cement to brick, landscaped bulb-outs at strategic points on the road and a “safety” median with plantings across from Bonnymede, where Olive Mill turns into Channel Drive.

“This is a way of creating a better area, a safer area, and one that’s going to work for everyone in the neighborhood,” said David Van Hoy, the project architect who works on multiple Warner projects.

On Monday, May 1, Fire Chief Ron McClain said he decide whether he approves the designs later this week. McClain said his decision would hinge on whether the median would hinder the Fire District’s response times.

“We’ve always been reluctant to support traffic-calming devices on major response routes,” McClain said. “But you have to consider the interests of people who want to improve our roads and at the same time you also have to consider how those improvements impact safety. It’s a difficult balancing act.”

If McClain denies the request, project representatives can appeal his decision to the Montecito Fire Board.

Warner designers see the right-of-way revisions as an opportunity to revamp the viewing corridor into Channel Drive, with a brick walkway that would lead seamlessly into the Biltmore’s brick valet entryway and with plantings to spruce up the outdoor décor.

The three bulb-outs and six-foot wide median are in response to pleas by nearby residents for safety improvements to the road. For instance, John Lundegard, a Butterfly Lane resident, said he made futile requests for changes to County Public Works for nearly a decade.

Van Hoy said the roadwork was designed to improve Channel Drive in a way that wasn’t “rude or controversial.”

Errin Lynch, public relations consultant for Warner, said her traffic analyses on Channel Drive indicate that motorists often speed over the 25-mile-per-hour limit, sometimes exceeding 50 miles per hour. She said medians offer a happy median, satisfying both traffic-calming expectations and esthetic preferences.

The Montecito Association has already staked out a firm stance of opposition, worried that the median could impede fire trucks’ access to emergencies. “The public right-of-way is a public trust that we all live by,” said Bob Collector, Association president. “The Association’s position is simple: whatever’s safest is the way we’re going to go.”

Association members said they will support whatever decision Chief McClain renders. “We need to recognize and respect that the fire district is the main arbiter of our safety interests,” said Susan Keller, chair of the Montecito Association’s Land Use Committee.

About 40 residents from Bonnymede and surrounding areas have also pledged their opposition, especially against the median, which they say would be ineffective in calming traffic.

“As much as we appreciate how pretty it all is, other than giving drivers something more fancy to drive through, it’s not going to slow anyone down,” said Dick Shaikewitz, a Butterfly Lane resident and Montecito Association board member.

Tempers flared at an April 18 presentation of the project when residents squabbled over how improvements should be carried out. The argument shed light on a fundamental divide between people who support Ty Warner and his vision, and those who remain skeptical.

“Safety issues are normally handled by the County, not private individuals,” said Bill Palladini, a Montecito Association board member. “It is not the responsibility of the Biltmore, a for-profit business, to handle traffic.”

Meanwhile, Bob Hazard, a Bonnymede resident who has been an avid spokesman for Ty Warner efforts, said he was recently offered $4 million for his Bonnymede condo, about twice what he paid for it.

“You’re not seeing that kind of appreciation in real estate if you live by the zoo, and that’s because of improvements to the Biltmore,” Hazard said.

DESPITE NEIGHBOR DISCONTENT, ALL SAINTS CHURCH RE-SUBMITS APPLICATION

All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church last month ago re-submitted an application to County Planning & Development for a meditation garden and columbarium, to the chagrin of nearby residents who say they are uncomfortable about living close to what they claim is the equivalent of a cemetery.

“It’s just an inappropriate setting for something like that,” said Laura Lodato, who lives at the corner of Miramar Avenue and Eucalyptus Lane. “The way the church has been handling this has been really shocking.”

Last August, the church withdrew a request for a coastal development permit for a meditation garden on the Eucalyptus Lane property. The proposal called for demolition of a storage shed and installment of three trellises and a columbarium, a wall with niches containing the ashes of cremated bodies.

In summer of 2005, church officials said they wanted to spend more time consulting with neighbors. In an April 6 letter to County Planning & Development, Suzanne Elledge, of Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services, wrote that the church met three times with residents without striking a compromise.

“The meetings served to improve understanding of the project as well as concerns about it, however, it appears that some neighbors remain firm in their opposition to the proposed columbarium,” Elledge wrote.

Yet neighbors say church representatives haven’t held any meetings since last September, when planners and designers presented their plans in full. Steve Traxler, a 20-year resident of Humphrey Road, said he and other residents felt “blindsided” when the church re-submitted what they consider a facsimile of the original design.

“Often perception becomes reality and there have been a lot of deals made behind closed doors,” Traxler said. “It’s not exactly the Christian thing to do.”

Critics of the proposal narrow their opposition to the columbarium, a structure they claim is “inappropriate” for a residential neighborhood. “It’s essentially a mausoleum wall,” said Lodato.

Other residents have expressed worries about the columbarium decreasing real estate values. Real estate agents confirm that columbaria can reduce the value of a home.

Thirty-six residents from the neighborhood submitted

As County planners sort through the application, there is confusion among residents about whether the new development constitutes an amendment to the church’s conditional use permit, or a revision. This is important because an amendment would likely give County staff the discretion to wave the application through, rather than forward it to the Montecito Planning Commission for a public hearing.

“This requires review because it’s an unusual use of the property in its over-hundred-year history,” Traxler said.

However, County staff said no matter what they decide, the Montecito Planning Commission will hold a hearing, possibly as early as this September.

“There’s going to be a process this time and the public is going to be involved,” said Steve Chase, deputy director of Planning & Development. “There clearly will be a battle for approval.”

Church officials first introduced their designs three years ago. The meditation gardens would be comprised of two trellises of approximately 572 feet, and another of about 165 feet. The columbarium, eight feet high and 80 feet long, would hold 641 niches. Churches sell these niches for as much as $2,000, though they average about $500.

In her letter to County planners, Suzanne Elledge said critics of the proposal have incorrectly used terms such as columbarium, mausoleum or cemetery interchangeably. She said state and local governments have softer regulations on columbaria “because the use does not involve the handling of the deceased, only the placement of cremated remains.”

The Montecito Association took up the issue at its May 2 Land Use meeting, inviting input from residents and representatives of the church. Results of that meeting weren’t available as the Journal was going to press.

Having only given perfunctory review of the original application, Victoria Greene, Montecito Association land use consultant, said last August that the columbarium “seems to me a rather significant change of use.”

As a neighbor of All Saints for 20 years, Traxler said he’s always been a strong proponent of the church, having been a zealous advocate for its 1997 expansion. Still, he said he felt it was imperative to let the church know when it’s asked for too much. “I think it was important to back the church on the right issues, but this one was a bad deal,” he said. “I think that our position has clearly said: ‘not in our backyard.’”