Montecito Association Hears Public Comment on Miramar

On Monday May 5, over one hundred Montecito residents turned out to hear neighbors’ opinions and ideas voiced to the Montecito Association Land Use Committee regarding owner Rick Caruso’s Miramar project. Thirty eight people spoke at what was billed as an “informal community meeting” held at El Montecito Presbyterian Church to accommodate the large crowd.

“We very much appreciate your taking the time to come here and speak as neighbors and citizens of the community. Your comments are important,” began Bill Palladini, president of the Montecito Association. Ted Tedesco, chair of the land use committee, ran the meeting, and started off by joking, “Keep in mind that we are all volunteers, and we are really nice people!” A nervous tension could be heard in his voice, but the meeting ran smoothly, for the most part.

The one issue that seemed to garner most concern was that of water usage. Several residents who share an aquifer with the proposed well Caruso proposes to drill, discussed their worries over contamination and usage. Nearby resident Peter Melnick said, “If the aquifer is compromised, it’s going to further burden the Montecito Water District if all of our families suddenly have to draw from it.” Ted Buergey, representing the Miramar Addition and Improvement Company, said, “A couple more years of drought, and we’re in big trouble. You need to take a look at that situation and see where we’re going to be five years from now.” David Strauss added his concern over the impact on the hotel on Montecito’s water supply, saying, “I urge the land use committee to become involved in this before its too late.”

Adherence to the Montecito Community Plan was also brought up. Larry Archibald said, “I think if the MA takes the stand that Caruso follow the grading and landfill and contour guidelines that are contained in the Montecito Community Plan, then I think the project will do fine." A speaker whose home is on Miramar Beach added, “I really want to see the Miramar Hotel get redone. However, Rick Caruso’s current design is far outside Montecito’s Community Plan. It’s my responsibility to preserve this community, and I encourage the Board to have the courage to say no to this current design, and make sure Caruso stays within the Community Plan.” Candice Buergey added, “I believe all of us live in this community because of the way it looks, and the reason it looks that way is because of the Montecito Community Plan.”

Karen Drown brought up the impact employees of the hotel would have on the area. “Hotel employees are going to need to be housed in our community; they are going to need schools in our community, and they’re going to be using all of the services of our community. We need to consider that this is going to have a huge impact on our community!”

Judging by applause as each speaker spoke in favor of or in opposition to current plans, more than half the audience seemed to favor going ahead with the Miramar project without further delay. Leslie Hovey, for example, opined that, “If we’re going to have a hotel on this site, then we ought to have a beautiful first-class hotel. It doesn’t sound to me like we’re ever going to get a hotel that is going to please everybody in the community, and this is our very best opportunity, and I would like to see it in my lifetime.” Bob Hazard added, “I have three major concerns: delay, delay, delay.” Miramar Beach resident Eva Marie Saint: “I think we have to do it now. I think Rick Caruso is truly a class act.” Nina Terzian, who called herself the Miramar’s closest neighbor, and in favor of Caruso’s plan, said, “I’ve had the privilege of living on the beach for ten years, and I’m not a selfish person, I want everyone to enjoy the beach the way it should be.”

Going The EIR Route

Harry Hovey posed the question, “What do we want to see there? Do we want to see a hotel there, or do we want to see vacant land?” Mike Ladato brought up another issue: “We’ve had two developers leave this project because of economic realities; they can’t make it work. The only way to make this project work is to have it be a five-star hotel.” Laura Ladato added, “We really shouldn’t take Rick Caruso for granted, I think we’re all assuming he’ll hang in there if we decide to go the EIR route.”

Britt Beauvoix cited size, bulk, and scale, traffic, parking and circulation impacts, fire protection and emergency response issues, and noise and air quality. She said that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is needed because of the major differences between the Caruso plan and the Schrager plan. She compared the size of the project to the size of a nearby shopping center. “The massive buildings are 250 feet larger than our largest shopping center. That includes the Home Depot, Staples, Sports Authority and Linens N’ Things in the Goleta Marketplace,” she said. Christine Dora agreed, saying, “The mass and scale of this development, beautiful as it is, really dictates that an EIR should be requested.” Following Dora, Jerry Abrams asked, “Speaking of environmental impact, I really wonder what the current state of the termite- and rat-ridden grounds has done to the Miramar. I wonder what the environmental impact is of that!” He added, “I’d like to enjoy the Miramar, and we can keep asking the Caruso group or the County to do an EIR, but I won’t be here [by the time that happens], and you know what? Neither will most of you!”

At the end of the meeting Matt Middlebrook, representing the Caruso Group, addressed some of the issues, saying, “The concerns you have are not things that we have not heard or things that we have not at least tried to respond to or look at. I know on some of these things we see things differently than the community does but they have not gone unnoticed.” He told the audience that analysis has been done on issues including flooding and noise. However, he said, the new proposed well has not been tested. “We still have to test it, and we will,” he said. After discussing the issue of freeway noise and reading the sound analysis, several members of the audience shouted in disagreement. At that point Tedesco stepped in, explaining that the point of the meeting was not to debate the issues.

“The County has held our feet to the fire,” Middlebrook stressed, and told those assembled of the requirements and mitigations set forth by the County. “All of the issues that have been raised, I think, have been adequately addressed both in the analysis we’ve done and in the documents that the County has produced.” He added, “We are very grateful for the public support.”

Palladini told us after the meeting, “I am very pleased that so many people showed up. We achieved our goal.”

The next step for the Montecito Association is for its Land Use Committee to wait for the county staff report to come out on June 2. At that time the Land Use Committee will formulate a recommendation, using the staff report and public comment, and present it to the MA Board the first week in June at an ad hoc meeting. Then the Board will vote and the recommendation will be sent to the Montecito Planning Commission. The Miramar project will be heard at special MPC hearing on Tuesday, June 10.