by Nick Welsh
Orange County developer Steven Gelson just completed acquisition of Carrillo Plaza — now home to Carrows and Spudnuts at De la Vina and Carrillo streets — which he hopes to demolish and replace with a four-story, mixed-use condo project. While Gelson’s plans are far from finalized, he said slightly more than one-third of the 55 condos he’s proposing would be affordable. A 30-year veteran of the Orange County development scene, Gelson is now focusing on properties facing severe environmental challenges. In the case of Carrillo Plaza, the Regional Water Quality Control Board has ordered a massive cleanup of subsoil contaminants — produced by a former dry-cleaning business — that threaten the city’s groundwater basin.
Gelson proposes digging out 23 feet of soil underneath the plaza — which amounts to 15,000 cubic yards of earth, or roughly 3,000 truckloads — and filling the giant hole with two levels of underground parking, which would service the 19,000 square feet of restaurants and shops proposed for the ground floor and the upstairs condos. Gelson noted that his plans with the water control board are one or two years away from final approval and that most of the leases for existing plaza tenants would expire in that time. City planners said there’s much to like about Gelson’s plans, but cautioned his project might be too dense and too tall for Santa Barbara standards.