Miramar Update and More

On April 1, Santa Barbara County released the Public Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report and Addendum to the Negative Declaration for the proposed Miramar project. Matt Middlebrook of Caruso Affiliates tells us the document will circulate for 45 days to give the community the opportunity to review and comment upon it.

Developer Rick Caruso and his team recently made several revisions to the project in response to comments from the Montecito Planning Commission which they presented at the April 8 Montecito Association meeting. Revisions include:

• Reducing the height of Main Building by 3.5 feet;

• Eliminating 172 feet of sound wall;

• Lowering the height of the administrative office and meeting room rooflines along South Jameson Avenue;

• Moving the two-story guest room buildings along South Jameson Avenue further back from the property line;

• Adding more articulation in the roof lines of the buildings along South Jameson Avenue;

• Eliminated lighting of the sandy beach in front of the hotel.

Middlebrook explained that the County has reviewed all aspects of the project and has determined that “in all areas besides historic resources, the impacts of the proposed project relative to the approved Schrager plan, with appropriate mitigations where necessary, would be less than significant.” He added that in some areas, such as public beach access, the plan has less impact than or is an improvement upon the Schrager plan.

Demolition of existing structures

As far as historic resources, the report by the County states, “A Structural Conditions Report was recently prepared for all of the existing structures on the Miramar property by Holmes Culley (March 19, 2007), which determined that all of the existing buildings would either be completely unsalvageable due to extensive water damage, weathering, and other forms of decay, or would need to have their exteriors completely replaced due to termite and severe mold issues.”

It goes on to read, “Nevertheless, since the project design has been changed substantially, impacts to historic resources will be revisited. Demolition of the existing historically significant structures may be considered a permanent loss to the historic resource and may, therefore, be considered a Class I, significant and unmitigable project-specific and cumulative impact.”

Several Miramar neighbors have voiced concern over issues including Oak Creek flooding, reflected freeway noise and the project’s compatibility with the Montecito Community Plan. Middlebrook addressed the County’s findings regarding these issues.

At the March Montecito Association meeting several neighbors asked the association to withdraw its support of the Miramar project based on their belief that the project would exacerbate the flooding hazard in Oak Creek. At the March meeting, Middlebrook responded by explaining that an analysis showed the project would have no impact on Oak Creek and would not worsen the flooding. The analysis focused on a 100-year flood, of which there is no record of one ever occurring.

Preparing for a thousand-year flood

Middlebrook stated that at the request of County Flood Control, and to be responsive to the concerns of neighbors, the team has now analyzed a 500-year flood in Oak Creek as well as simultaneous 100-year flood events in Oak Creek and San Ysidro Creeks (the waters combine under extreme flood conditions). Penfield & Smith, the firm hired for the analysis, estimated that the possibility of simultaneous 100-year floods could be as infrequent as once every 10,000 years. After submitting those analyses to the County on March 7, County Flood Control has reviewed and accepted them as accurate. Middlebrook stated, “We are hopeful that the new reports – which go far beyond the typical level of analysis for a project of this nature – satisfy the concerns raised by the neighbors and we can see no reason, based upon the further analysis submitted to the County, why our neighbors would continue to oppose the project, argue for further delay, or continue to threaten litigation which could delay the project for years.”

Residents who live across Highway 101 north of the proposed project have expressed concern about freeway noise being reflected off the sound wall and increasing noise levels at their homes. Middlebrook noted that a nearly identical sound wall was approved by the County as part of the Schrager plan, and the County has concluded that the level of noise increase expected is generally not audible to the human ear and is therefore not considered a significant impact.

Land-Use Committee to weigh in

The issue had been raised whether the plan complies with the Montecito Community Plan’s policy that resorts should be designed with a “Cottage-type” style. Caruso explained to the MA Board that the County has found his plan consistent with the Community Plan. The County’s report reads, “Because the proposed project includes small cottages, landscaping is adequate to screen and beautify, nearly all parking is underground and so hidden from public view, and the MBAR in their conceptual review of the proposed project on December 17, 2007 confirmed the appropriateness of the proposed architecture in its context, the intent and purpose of this policy is satisfied and the project is considered consistent.”

The project is slated to go back before the MPC on June 10; Caruso shared his hope of gaining approval at that time, and starting construction shortly after. “We’re going ahead as quickly as we possibly can and the county has been great to work with,” he said.

A discussion among board members ensued at the MA meeting to determine the next step in the process of taking a position on the Miramar. Land Use Chair Ted Tedesco explained that the Land-Use Committee will study the EIR and make comments on it to be submitted directly to the County.

Town Hall meetings suggested

Regarding the project as a whole, Tedesco stated that a land-use meeting will be held on May 5 to form a recommendation for the board that will be presented for action on May 13. “We can’t go any further beyond that because at that point we almost become irrelevant to the process because the MPC is going to be holding meetings and I’m sure they are going to want to know what we stand for on this project one way or the other,” he said. Board member Ted Simmons stated, “This very much fits in with how traditionally [the process] has been done.”

Executive Director Victoria Greene commented that on past projects, the board has held a “town-hall” type meeting. “What you have done is you have had input from groups of concerned neighbors; we’ve had presentations from the developer, but you haven’t invited the community as a whole to come give you input about the project,” she said. Newer board member David Carpenter answered, “I’ve been at all of these meetings for months now and granted I’m new, but it seems like every meeting I’ve been to I’ve heard comments from neighbors, so I’m at a loss as to what you’re talking about!” M.A. President Bill Palladini weighed in with his gavel, as the audience started to chatter. He clarified that the land-use meeting on May 5 will be open to the public (as always.) Board member Tony Harbour agreed, saying, “We have Caruso’s latest drawings, we have comments about the EIR; we have everything we need to make a decision.”

Audience member Susan Keller disagreed, adding, “You say you have all the information you need but traditionally and historically one of the main and most valuable functions of the association is to provide some kind of town hall or forum where people from the community can come and speak and I think it might be very informational for you if you listen to what other people in the community have to say before you come to a decision.”

Thumbs up or thumbs down

After more discussion by both the audience and the board, Caruso stood up and said, “I appreciate the debate but I just want to remind everybody we’ve had two meetings with MBAR; we had an informational meeting with the MPC; you held a town hall meeting where we had three hundred to four hundred people at; we’ve had a number of meetings to discuss this; we’ve been out in the community dozens and dozens of times. I’m not trying to draw a line in the sand, but I am. That’s the plan, there are no more changes.” He added that his team has responded to every comment made and made changes to the plans accordingly. “I think it’s a thumbs up or a thumbs down, with all due respect,” he said. He told us later, “The only thing to come out of a public forum is stalling of the project.”

You are invited to attend the Montecito Association’s Land-Use meeting at 1469 East Valley Road on Monday May 5 at 9 am.

More Association News

Several members of the community asked the association to hold a town-hall forum on the pros and cons of Montecito Incorporation. Vice President Diane Pannkuk discussed how a similar forum was held several years back when the issue was prevalent in the community. “I always feel that information is a powerful thing and this does bubble up every so often and we are probably in the best position to bring the resources to the public and have questions answered. I put this on in the past and it is a lot of work, but maybe it’s what we do best. I have to say it’s the thing I was probably the most proud of during my time as president,” she said. Palladini tabled the discussion, saying he would appoint a “study group” to research what would go into putting such a forum together.

Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace reminded the Association about the fire evacuation drill taking place on April 26. The point of the drill is to test the Reverse 9-1-1 system. Lieutenant Eric Koopmans added that the Sheriff’s Department would be involved as well, and asked residents to keep their gates closed when they evacuate for security purposes. Wallace said that residents involved in the drill will receive a reminder phone message the week before.

Palladini reported that on April 15 Martha Siegel will be appearing at the Board of Supervisors meeting to receive an acknowledgement of her late husband Barry’s work on behalf of the Montecito community. On April 16 there will be a dedication of the bike path on North Jameson in Barry’s name. “Barry was a longtime board member and we very much respect the work he did,” Palladini said.

The next Montecito Association board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday May 13.

Freeway Expansion Update

The California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, has awarded a Sun Valley construction company the contract for the Highway 101 freeway widening project. Security Paving was one of seven companies that bid for the job, slated to begin this summer.

Security Paving submitted the lowest bid at $46,194,285.52 – 1.7% under the estimated cost of the project.