Hillside development – Some Progress

As mentioned in a recent column, issues raised by homes being built on higher elevations of our beautiful Montecito foothills remain a concern. There is a growing consensus by the Montecito Board of Architectural Review (MBAR), the Montecito Planning Commission (MPC), County Planning staff, the Montecito Association and members of the public that clarification is needed. How are zoning ordinances and guidelines contained in the Montecito Community Plan being interpreted, applied and enforced?

At the August 29 meeting of the Montecito Planning Commission, review of this process began. A briefing by County Planning staff was followed by comments from members of the MBAR and the Montecito Association.

Current guidelines and ordinances clearly set out policies and standards for protecting hillsides from excessive grading and inappropriate development. While some discretion is afforded to the MBAR and the MPC, the question is whether more enforcement is necessary and whether this discretion has resulted in projects being approved that violate the spirit and intent of the hillside ordinances and guidelines. With as many as 50 undeveloped privately owned hillside parcels remaining, there is cause for concern.

We may also need to re-think how an appropriate amount of square footage for a home on a hillside lot is determined. Current guidelines are based on the total size of the property rather than on the amount of buildable land available. For example, while a property may be 40 acres, the amount of land actually available for the construction of a home may be one acre or even less.

Another part of the discussion relates to which bodies should take part in the review process. Residential projects on hillsides in other parts of Santa Barbara County are reviewed and ruled upon by Boards of Architectural Review and the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission. In Montecito however, only the MBAR and Planning and Development staff review and make decisions for hillside development proposals. It seems appropriate to also include the Montecito Planning Commission in this important process.

One last item – it was suggested by an MPC member that the Montecito Association hold a community forum on hillside development. It could be a good opportunity for all of us to better understand these important issues and provide comment to County staff, the MBAR and the MPC, so we will try to do this in the near future.

No Formal Position on Miramar… Yet

As was the case with previous proposals, the Montecito Association continues to be supportive of efforts to improve the Miramar property. The Association has sponsored several well-attended public forums to facilitate presentation of the new Caruso Miramar plan.

Our Land Use Steering Committee has been studying the proposal and has met with the Caruso team on a number of occasions. We feel this “work in process” approach has served to not only help us better understand the proposal but also to provide comment and guidance to the Caruso team on issues such as height, density of development, and guidelines within the Montecito Community Plan.

At our August board meeting, I summarized our current position on the project to Mr. Caruso, his staff, and members of the audience. That position is: The Montecito Association very much appreciates Mr. Caruso’s efforts to build a beautiful hotel at the Miramar that Montecito can be proud of and that will be an asset to our community.

However, we are respectful of the important work that still needs to be completed by the Caruso team with County staff, the MBAR and the MPC. With the recently erected story poles and revisions forthcoming due to the drainage and road easement issues, there is still much work to be done by all parties.

We will continue to work with the Caruso group and will be prepared to comment at further MBAR and MPC reviews as the project moves ahead. When the final staff report is ready, the Land Use Committee will make its recommendations to the Board of Directors and the Montecito Association will take a formal position on this important project.

2008 Board Member Applications

Once again, it’s the time of year when the Montecito Association is accepting applications for positions on our board of directors. This is a great way to serve your community and there should be no shortage of interesting and challenging projects in the coming year. We urge those who may be interested to please submit names and relevant information to us at execdirector@montecitoassociation.org.