After four years of calling Montecito’s town hall “home,” the Montecito Board of Architectural Review has voted to pack up its gear and move downtown. They’re hoping a six-month trial separation from geographic Montecito will not only create a more efficient permitting process, but also ease an ongoing and growing identity crisis. At their Monday meeting, MBAR — which includes, pictured from left to right seated, Ray Ketzel, Tony Spann (chair), Peter Edwards, and Michele Michaelson and, standing left to right, Sam Maphis, Don Nulty, and Marsha Zilles — voted to move their meeting site downtown to the County Planning Commission Meeting Room, 123 East Anapamu Street, beginning April 9. After six months, MBAR will reconsider the move, its affects and efficiencies.
Since its inception four years ago, MBAR, the design arm of the county’s Montecito Planning Commission, has held its bi-monthly meeting at Montecito Community Hall, allowing easy local access to planning review hearings. However, the intended convenience has led, it seems, to considerable community confusion.
Montecito Hall, on East Valley Road, is a county building with multi-faceted uses. It houses the city-run library, a community Sheriff’s desk, a Highway Patrol rest station, along with the offices of the Montecito Association (MA), a private homeowners association. For many years (since pre-1960), the MA provided a community-based Architectural Review Committee, or the ARC, which met in the hall. In 2003, upon the creation of the MBAR, MA’s ARC was disbanded, but many of the ARC committee members moved forward to become MBAR board members.
So, if you are still with me, as MBAR became an official county body, it retained the much of the familiarity and look of MA’s old ARC: MBAR met in the same room as MA’s ARC (Montecito Hall); the chair remained the same (at the time, Claire Gottsdanker); the committee was mostly the same people; and it provided the same function as the ARC (architectural review of Montecito design projects). Understandably, the public became considerably confused, and Monday’s stir-up of Montecito’s planning-process alphabet-soup-pot is an attempt at an easy to swallow solution. For a primer on that soup, go to a previous Montage here.
“I’ve been on this board (MBAR) for four years and people are still coming to me and complaining about some action of the Montecito Association. I always say, ‘Hey you are talking to the wrong person,’” explained Tony Spann, MBAR’s chair. “This location change will make it easier for the public to understand the differentiation.” Spann said MBAR unanimously agreed to give a downtown location a six-month trial.
“Change is always hard, but this will be better for the community.” Spann said. He said the move will hopefully sever the of identity confusion between the MA and the MBAR, and allow MBAR better access to planning records, process tools, and county staff, such as planner Julie Harris and MBAR secretary David Villalobos (pictured).
“The architectural review process is a sophisticated system. It is quite complicated and, by being downtown, the decision-makers will have smooth access to the tools we need to make informed decisions,” Spann explained. “If some component is missing, by being physically near the planning department, we can recess for a few minutes and get the information we need.” Spann said at the current off-campus Montecito location, if MBAR is missing a component, the applicant often has to wait for two weeks next meeting to get answers. “This will make for easy access to records and reduce the burden on applicants,” Spann said.
The only public comment on MBAR’s Montecito departure came from Montecito Association President Bill Palladini. He asked, and was reassured, that the county will continue to provide building plans for new projects to the Association, where they are stored for easy, local review. The final Montecito Hall meeting of the MBAR will be held on March 26, just in case you want witness the end of an era of major Montecito confusion.
NO CONFUSION ABOUT CONGESTION: With 85 percent of 416 Montecito Union School students (pictured) being driven to school, solutions to school traffic congestion and child pedestrian safety continues to receiving high attention in Montecito this week, especially from MUS parents. On Monday, MUS parent Stephen Murdoch reported the results of February school-wide school transportation survey he organized to the MUS School Safety Committee and to Montage.
“The survey reported that nine percent of our children walk to school, while 85 percent are driven, but 68 percent would actually prefer to walk or ride a bike if they felt it was safe. That number is nearly a complete reverse of the reality,” Murdoch explained. With 61 percent of MUS families returning the survey, Murdoch said he believes the survey has a high degree of validity - however, he said it revealed statistics he did not want to see.
Murdoch attended Montecito Union School himself in the 1970s and he recalls the fun of walking and riding a bike to school. “When I went here,” he said, “we all walked and rode bikes, but the first time I brought my daughter to school this year I saw the empty bike racks and I knew something had changed.” Murdoch says, however, he does not believe student bike riding or walking to school will provide the whole traffic-congestion solution, however he has been encouraged by community creativity involving the issue. He said currently on the table are ideas for carpooling, improving walking paths, and even busing.
“Supervisor Salud Carbajal has show great leadership on this issue and it is clear he has the safety of our children in mind,” Murdoch said. “I see people excited and looking for multi-pronged solutions. Nothing is easy but I see people excited and coming up with answers.”
Murdoch says he encourages community participation and can be contacted at MUS by leaving word with principal Kris Bergstrom at 969-3249. “We need people to get involved with this at the grass routes level,” Murdoch said.
LEADING READING: Jody Thomas (pictured) has been named lead supervisor of the Montecito Branch of the Santa Barbara City Library, located in Montecito Hall, 1469 East Valley Road. Jody, who replaces long time librarian Luisa Bird-Robinson (who has transferred downtown), is a familiar face in Montecito. Jody has been an assistant in the Montecito library for the past three years and, at one time, worked dispatch for the Montecito Fire District. Jody graduated from UCSB and has masters in counseling form Cal State Northridge. She is a Carpinteria native and hopes that the Montecito branch library retains the feel of her Carpinteria library of her childhood. “I loved that library and I hope Montecito’s library retains that feeling - friendly and sweet.”
THE MUSIC ACADEMY PROJECT WAKES UP: A massive Music Academy of the West rehabilitation master building plan was approved in October 2004, but the music school has been silent on its building plans ever since. On Monday, however, the giant seemed to be waking up when the Music Academy team (pictured) appeared at MBAR to present minor revisions to their permitted Phase One Plan.
The revisions, brought forward by Suzanne Elledge Permit Planners (which received MBAR preliminary approval), included removing previously proposed side wings from the auditorium (now know as Hahn Hall, honoring new significant donors), adding a new self-standing restroom, and removing some previously requested basement space. This part includes Hahn Hall (pictured), a new parking area, and the planting of perimeter landscaping. With money and plan in place, Phase One, could see spade-to-dirt as early as August, which would be music to a lot of eager patron’s ears and make some giant dreams come true!
NO ROOM AT THE INN: Montecitians are complaining about being blocked out of the San Ysidro Ranch‘s very popular Plow and Angel. The well-liked, causal eatery re-opened on February 5 to much local joy, but the enthusiasm has turned to gripes.
Locals, used to visiting on a moments notice, are finding themselves locked outside at the new SYR gate, being told there is no room at the inn and no table at the Plow. A Ty Warner spokesperson said the initial response to the re-opening of Plow and Angel overwhelmed the restaurant but they believe the crunch will shortly work itself out. Meanwhile you can wait for a table by booking the luxury Ty Warner Suite for mere $3,750 per night!
ON THE AGENDA:
March 24: The Mental Health Association’s Spring Musical, 4:30 p.m., at the Montecito home of Stephen and Carla Hahn. Call 898-0129.
March 25: Honoring Rudy Giuliani and adding money to his possible presidential campaign, 2 p.m., at the Montecito home of Lee and Lori Mikles, $2,300 per person. Call 818-905-5420.