In Montecito, even the tiniest slivers of real estate are ripe for development. So thinks a Santa Barbara builder who wants to install two restrooms and a concession stand on a 15-foot-wide patch of land he owns and that faces Butterfly Beach. Bernie MacElhenny has resuscitated an idea he pitched two years ago and which he believes will improve the quality of the Channel Drive beach area, a hot spot for summer visitors, but also a low key residential neighborhood.

Mr. MacElhenny unveiled his latest plan at the Montecito Association Land Use Committee August 1 meeting, presenting members a packet proposal replete with a map of the area and pages upon pages of pictures of concession stand units and portable restroom models. The packet also included rough sketches of permanent restroom units designed with a Spanish Colonial flavor.

MacElhenny’s representative, Justin Urban, project manager for Bankers Mortgage Realty Advisers of Santa Barbara, said the concession stand could be “everything from the simple unit that you can cart away at seven o’clock at night, or it could be a trailer.” The restrooms, he said, could be porta-potties or full units.

So far, Mr. MacElhenny and his representatives have presented his concept in a “what you see is what you get” fashion, asserting that the Butterfly Beach area could use bathrooms and that a snack stand would help offset the costs for the facilities.

“I think he feels the need for restrooms,” Urban said. “I myself always use that beach and have always thought, ‘Gee, I’d love to see a bathroom or a shower there.’ I was always surprised that wasn’t there.”

But Channel Drive residents and community organizations have declared that the neighborhood doesn’t need such facilities. Neighbors have criticized the idea as a “very inappropriate” and “totally ridiculous” project.

“I wouldn’t spend another dime on this,” said Steve Warner, a Channel Drive resident. “This just doesn’t fly.”

The Association Land Use Committee didn’t cast a formal vote, but members indicated their opinion would be influenced by residents’ opposition. “We would certainly listen to the homeowners on this and they don’t seem interested, so we would likely not support this,” said Montecito Land Use Chair Susan Keller.

Land Use members also said Butterfly Beach should be treated differently than other beaches that have restroom facilities, such as in Summerland, because it is surrounded by residences and thus qualifies as a “community beach.” Decision makers, they said, should employ this distinction when dealing with commercial and recreational interests in the area.

“Community beaches are meant for the people who walk by there and live in the neighborhood,” said J’Amy Brown, a land use member who first worked on the MacElhenny deal two years ago as president of the Association. “We don’t have a lot of parking. [Besides], we have one heck of a concession stand, and it’s called the Biltmore.”

Montecito Sanitary District officials said given the volatile position of MacElhenny’s land, which is composed of tar and rock overlooking the high tide line of the beach, the proposal brings up several engineering concerns. Mike McCaleb, associate engineer for the Montecito Sanitary District, said restrooms at this location would also cause severe risks of water pollution.

“One of the things we fight on a regular basis is intrusion into our water system,” McCaleb said. “My suggestion would be proceed at your own risk, but we would not encourage you to do it.”

MacElhenny’s project has other complications. Using a $30,000 Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund (CREF) grant, Channel Drive residents have been working with County Public Works to complete a walking path on the street that would cross through MacElhenny’s property.

However, residents have gotten less interested in the project, saying costs will exceed the amount provided by the grant. The work would also involve removal of bushes that act as a deterrent to high waves.

“From what I can gather, we’re not in favor of it,” said Dallas Clark, a Channel Drive resident.

Ms Clark said she and other Channel Drive neighbors, in addition to J’Amy Brown, would meet with Public Works officials this week to discuss the plan further.

Urban said MacElhenny’s project has been “put on hold for the moment.” He may file an application with the County, Urban said, but he’s still weighing his options.

For their part, Channel Drive residents are also wondering what the developer is thinking. “I don’t know what his motive is,” Clark said. “I have no idea what he’ll do.”

Water Board to Consider Rate Hike

Montecito Water District general manager Bob Roebuck said last week that the Water Board would consider increasing its rates again this fall. If implemented, the price hike would be the second in two years.

“We’re not total masters of our destiny,” Roebuck said. “We’re dependent on the State Water Project for the product, but also for the infrastructure that allows us to sell that product.”

The water agency currently offers varying prices to its five customer classes – residential ($3.47 per hundred cubic feet), commercial ($4.25), schools ($3.23), agricultural ($1.56) and recreational ($1.96).

In 1997, the district invested in the voter-approved State Water Project, a contractual obligation that by its end in 2039 will have cost roughly $130 million. Water district officials have sworn the water office is on track to pay off a series of loans taken out a decade ago. But they’ve acknowledged price increases must take place sporadically for the district to keep pace.

Chip Wullbrandt, the district’s attorney, said the costs are high due to California’s increasingly rigid water standards. Also costly, he said, are infrastructure costs. By the end of this year, the district hopes to have finished placing a cover on the Ortega Reservoir, the agency’s largest storage facility.

Federal regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act mandate covers on all water reservoirs to protect from intentional and unintentional contaminates.

Originally tabbed at $11 million, the costs for the reservoir cover, which the district is splitting with the Carpinteria Water District, have escalated to $20 million.

While rate hikes are generally unpopular, Wullbrandt said he was confident the Montecito Water District’s 4,400 customers would comply with a price change.

At meetings last year, “I heard a lot of grumbling about price increases, but I think there was a general understanding that the district wasn’t charging more than it needs to offer its service,” Wullbrandt said. “The district board members are also district customers and, like you, they don’t want to raise their own prices.”

Westmont Returns With Design Overhaul

After two months of introspection, Westmont College officials announced on Monday they’re ready to unveil the redesign of their multi-hundred-million-dollar campus masterplan update. Reached by telephone Scott Craig, Westmont manager of media relations, said the new design differs significantly from the original blueprint, which aimed to double the 375,000-square-foot campus.

“We listened closely to the feedback we received and decided that we needed a less conventional approach,” said Randy Jones, director of campus planning, in a written statement. “We wanted to focus on the green building aspect and we were able to use sustainable architecture to emphasize the site and enhance the garden atmosphere.”

Craig said the most noticeable changes to the redesign are to the academic center. This area has been one of the most contentious portions of the project because it deals with intensive construction of buildings on the western part of the campus, near several residential neighbors.

Craig said Westmont officials have paid close attention to Montecito Board of Architectural Review (MBAR) advice and neighbors’ concerns and have moved academic buildings – such as the proposed science and math buildings – closer to the center of campus. Officials said they’ve also given great study to the size and height of those buildings and that they’ve worked to make them blend in more to the college’s wooded environs.

“With the redesign, we’ve taken a more site-specific approach and have integrated buildings into the natural landscape of the campus,” said Cliff Lundberg, executive vice president.

The college will resume meetings with the MBAR on September 11, with hearings before the Montecito Planning Commission to follow. Craig said Westmont had presented the redesign to a couple neighbors and wanted to show it to more people as this month elapses.

In May, after more than six hearings and 50 hours of deliberation before the Montecito Planning Commission, the Christian liberal arts college announced a 60-day pause to review its project. During the same time, Westmont hired two new architects, David VanHoy and Ken Radtkey, a decision that was intended to bring local flavor and experience to the colossal project.

With two months off and the addition of its architects, Westmont officials suggested the pause period had been worthwhile. “Throughout the six year review process for the Update to the Approved Plan, we have listened closely and responded to the feedback we have received,” Lundberg said. “With this redesign, we feel that every reasonable concern has now been addressed from both an environmental and a design standpoint.”

County Loses Deputy Director to Goleta

Steve Chase, the County planner with an abundance of experience on Montecito projects, told colleagues last week he would be leaving his post as deputy director. His boss, County CEO Michael Brown, confirmed that Mr. Chase has accepted the job of planning director for the City of Goleta, a position that pays between $119,717 and $145,517 per year, in addition to a $350 per month allowance.

“We certainly are sorry he’s leaving because he has contributed a lot to this office,” Brown said. “On the other hand, we congratulate him. It’s a significant promotion for anybody in this field.”

While Goleta officials confirmed that Chase agreed to an employment contract, Kirsten Deshler, the City’s public information officer, said her department couldn’t comment on the deal because a formal announcement had yet to be made. Deshler said her office would release an official statement later.

The appointment of Chase caps a four-month search to replace the retiring Ken Curtis, the City of Goleta’s second ever employee whose last day is September 3.

In Mr. Chase, Goleta earns a seasoned planner whose experience as a County employee dates back to the ‘70s. After the sudden termination of County planning director Val Alexeeff last March, Mr. Chase has made a noticeable ascent through the Planning & Development Department’s management ranks. Earlier this year, the County appointed him deputy director, a job that pays between $85,924 and $104,915 per year, according to County records.

This year, Mr. Chase has had a marked level of involvement on major Montecito planning projects, most noteworthy of which was the yet resolved Westmont College upgrade. He also became a common fixture at local gatherings such as Montecito Association meetings, where he regularly offered his guidance and analysis on the County’s procedures and philosophy.

Montecito Association President Bob Collector said at the Association’s Board of Directors August 8 meeting that Chase had called him announcing his departure. “We were all very surprised when we heard this news,” Collector said.

Collector added that Chase wished to tie up loose ends in Montecito before he leaves his job at the end of the month. Part of that work includes wrapping up architectural guideline negotiations between the Montecito Planning Commission, Montecito Board of Architectural Review and the Association. The discussions, which Chase has helped shepherd for weeks, are expected to result in changes in how Montecito decision makers interpret the acceptable size of a house in this town.

To some planners, Chase’s departure could have unforeseen implications for Montecito. The deputy director leaves a department that has for more than a year taken heavy losses with the resignations of multiple veteran planners. In addition to the departure of Alexeeff, planners Steve Goggia, a Montecito resident, and Adrienne Domas both left Planning & Development last year. Another planner, Jackie Campbell, also left last year to become community development director for the City of Carpinteria.

In a County with rigid regulations and complex policies and standards, planners say the loss of such employees doesn’t bode well for future planning decisions. “I think that the department would be better off if it hung on to its experienced staff members,” said Victoria Greene, who worked as a County planner until 2002 and currently serves as planning consultant for the Montecito Association. “To do the job of planner for the County of Santa Barbara, you need a lot of experience with its rules and guidelines.”

From the County’s perspective, turnover at the planning level is a part of its history. Michael Brown said this fact is most true for the development review department for South County, the office that handles all permit applications pertaining to Montecito.

Though he didn’t provide a telltale reason for why this exodus is occurring, Brown said the South Coast’s high housing prices and the fact that the County’s “salaries are somewhat behind” other planning offices could play into this trend. He noted that a recent 10% increase in salaries could help employees stay.

While Goleta inherits a valuable planner, the nascent city still faces many obstacles, the most important of which is completion of its general plan. In a County “with lots of regulations and protections” inhabited by a “very sophisticated community with very high standards,” Brown said Chase has a big task on his shoulders that could either mean his legacy or his downfall.

“I have said consistently that the hardest job in Santa Barbara County is that of planning director,” Brown said. “No matter what you do, somebody is going to be unhappy.”