Say Hello to the New Biltmore Seawall

It seems only yesterday when (in January of 2005) the Butterfly Beach steps collapsed and fell victim to winter rain and an unruly high tide. And, I don't know about you, but I like the new seawall across from the Biltmore.

Not long after the collapse, Biltmore owner Ty Warner proposed rebuilding the seawall and hired architect David Van Hoy to design something “architecturally contextual” to the area. Van Hoy quickly came up with a proposed $2-million rehabilitation plan featuring a brick pathway crossing Channel Drive leading to a new set of stairs and brick-topped columns.

At a Montecito Planning Commission meeting held in 2006, Commissioner Claire Gottsdanker suggested that the proposed seawall departed from “the tradition” of the area, and opined that the “perception that this is a public path and belongs to the community, not to a very fancy five-star hotel,” was paramount.

Gottsdanker voted to approve the project, but threw in a last-minute motion to remove the brick portions of the pathway, which her fellow commissioners went along with. This condition ultimately led Ty Warner to appeal the Montecito Planning Commission’s conditional approval to the Board of Supervisors.

This led to the beginning of lengthy dialogue between the Montecito Association, the MPC, and a citizens group determined to help push through the project.

Now that the wall, which could have been finished two years ago, is nearing completion, we can only sit and chuckle and remember all the comments made against its construction during the hearings and meetings: “The wall is too nice,” “It’s not public friendly,” “It’s too Ty,” and so on. All the man hours wasted arguing and debating the merits of bricks in a walkway is ludicrous.

That Mr. Warner needed to gather hundreds of citizens to show support of this project in order to get the seawall re-built – something the entire community can once again enjoy and use – is why people are up in arms about our planning process. We are fortunate to have someone like Mr. Warner making these capital improvements to Montecito at no cost to taxpayers; if left to county administrators, the steps and the wall in front of the Biltmore would probably still resemble the deteriorated dump with its broken-down cyclone fencing and crumbled pavement the west end of Channel Drive was before Warner stepped in to beautify it.

In the end, the Board of Supervisors sided with Mr. Warner and gave him the go ahead to build the brick walkway leading up to the steps and the seawall. Now that it is built, I scratch my head and wonder why anyone would have opposed its reconstruction.

Ultimately, Warner wanted to make a nicer walkway from his hotel to the beach; it's his; he should be allowed. The new wall is simple but elegant and is almost complete (landscaping has yet to be completed). It is a welcome addition to our beachside and has turned out to be completely “public friendly.”

We applaud and thank Ty Warner for both his foresight and, more importantly, his perseverance.