Neighbors Spar Over Proposed Home

On Wednesday, the Montecito Planning Commission will be reviewing a contentious development application that has been discussed by architectural experts six times and that County planners have deemed incompatible with its neighborhood.

Hank and Michelle Hurst, eight-year residents of Montecito, are proposing to tear down their Park Lane home to build a new residence that has garnered stiff opposition from neighbors and until recently left decision makers dithering over the compatibility of the home. The Hursts, who lived on Sycamore Canyon Road for eight years before buying the Park Lane spread more than a year ago, said they’d present at Wednesday’s hearing a new version of the design that scales down the nearly 9,000-square-foot home to make it more palatable to neighbors.

“We’ve always talked about having the right property so we could have everything we want and that’s what we thought we had with this one,” Hank Hurst said. “Unfortunately, the dream home is turning into a nightmare.”

Until now, neighbors have opposed the project, claiming the house is too large and tall. In interviews with the Journal and during public testimonies, area residents have expressed their distrust of the Hursts and have collectively hired the firm of Price, Postel & Parma as legal representation.

County agencies have backed the neighbors, saying that a 9,000-square-foot residence with a total building size of more than 14,000 square feet is too large for a 3.5-acre property.

After six hearings dating back to last February, the Montecito Board of Architectural Review opposed the project. The board’s chair, Tony Spann, described the house design as one that “pushes all the envelopes” in size, appearance and neighborhood compatibility.

“We felt the applicant just didn’t go far enough to please us,” Spann said. “The neighbors have to see eye to eye on this for this to work.”

The group of neighbors is also disputing the Hursts’ claimed right of access to their property via a small entry on Buena Vista Drive. Overhead images of the Hursts’ parcel show a narrow road-like path that cleaves through the property. But neighbors said the entry had not been utilized until the Hursts moved in and County records show that the pathway has not been maintained in at least 50 years.

Neighbors also claimed the Hursts performed some grading on their property to give the appearance that a road existed. In comments dated October 9 of last year, the Montecito Board of Architectural Review said the Hursts’ continued assertions “that no grading had occurred on the Buena Vista access route, despite the presentation of photographs providing evidence otherwise, is both disturbing and disappointing.”

“This has been a very contentious relationships with Mr. Hurst,” said Patrick Smiekel, a neighbor on Buena Vista Drive. “He’s said one thing and done another since the beginning. We wouldn’t have gotten involved in this if he had just been reasonable.”

Still, the Hursts deny the grading, saying they merely laid down gravel on the entry route. Hank Hurst said he bought his property under the premise that the Buena Vista entry was open to public access and he promised construction vehicles would be prohibited from using that entrance.

Hurst’s attorney, Derek Westen, said “the neighbors are trying to blackmail us into giving up public access.”