The Miramar: Questions Asked; Questions Answered

In a community dispute, it helps to start with common ground. Closure requires the parties to come together without tears, tantrums, and table thumping. With respect to the Miramar, what do we agree upon and how can we reach compromise where we don’t agree?

Would the County of Santa Barbara benefit from a new Miramar?

With soaring gas prices, a weakening economy, and a significant loss of jobs in hospitality and construction, the County is facing the toughest South Coast tourism market since 9/11. A revived Miramar would mean jobs and millions of dollars in property, sales, and bed taxes.

Did Rick Caruso and his team do a better job than Ian Schrager of engaging the Montecito community in the design of the Miramar?

Absolutely. No comparison. Caruso reached out, listened, made modifications and designed and re-designed in response to community concerns and came up with a family-friendly, beautifully landscaped resort with one- and two-story cottages and bungalows throughout.

Does the Miramar meet the intent of the Montecito Community Plan?

Both the County Staff Report and The Board of Directors of the Montecito Association (MA) concluded that the Miramar proposal is consistent with the Montecito Community Plan. The Montecito Planning Commission (MPC) endorsed the Community Plan “cottage style designation” at its January hearing, but now suggests the project is not consistent with the plan.

Was the Montecito Association asleep at the switch?

Since February of 2007, the Montecito Land Use Committee and the Montecito Association have held dozens of public forums, meeting repeatedly with the Caruso team, and poring over thousands of pages of documentation. MA was intensely involved in the 82 Conditions for Approval inserted into the County Staff Report, plus 20 Conditions for Approval in the SEIR. MA negotiated reductions in height along South Jameson, variances in ridgelines and concessions in scale, size and bulk such as the elimination of the second story on the spa building. MPC, which has looked at the design twice, suggested MA did not do its proper homework. This does not make sense.

Is the Miramar too high?

The County Planning Staff and the Board of the Montecito Association both endorsed the height modification to raise the main lobby-restaurant building three feet above finished grade. The expensive two-level underground parking garage, which cannot be built below the water table, necessitates the added height. Underground parking removes 4.73 acres of surface asphalt on a nearly 16-acre site, to be replaced with garden paths, open space and drought-resistant plantings.

Should variances be granted for setbacks and parking?

The County Staff Report and the Montecito Association recommend approval of the setback and parking modifications. The Caruso plan offers greater setbacks than the approved Schrager Plan. Both setback and parking variances were granted to Schrager and conveyed to Caruso on the sale of the site. The Caruso plan offers 130 more parking spaces than the approved Schrager Plan.

Why not build the approved Schrager plan?

The Schrager Plan with its smaller guest rooms was not financeable. Hard-nosed lenders saw its flaws and rejected it.

Is a full 12-month EIR, or a 9-month Water EIR, or Parking EIR, or a Traffic EIR necessary?

Those who want to kill the Miramar will keep asking for additional EIRs, knowing Caruso has a high-dollar carrying cost burn rate. Delay discourages lenders and sinks the project economically. MPC has taken a baseball bat to Caruso’s kneecaps by imposing a 9-month supplemental water EIR, based on the possibility of a drought. Tom Mosby, Manager of Montecito Water District, stated MWD was obligated to provide the Miramar, an existing customer, with sufficient water, albeit at a higher price. In the event of an extended drought, all Montecito customers would be cut back, including the Miramar.

Should MPC recommend approval of the Miramar, with its three variances for height, setbacks and parking?

County Staff recommends approval. Montecito Association directors endorsed the Miramar project as defined in the County Staff Report dated 7/3/08, along with its findings and conditions for approval. MPC denied the Biltmore stairway to Butterfly Beach, calling them “too gaudy and too Biltmore,” until overruled by the Board of Supervisors. Is there a repeat in their future?

Our editorial space is open to those with differing opinions. If you have one and would like to voice it, please send to tim@montecitojournal.net