El Encanto, Neighbors Ordered to Mediation

After a grueling five-hour hearing, members of the Santa Barbara City Council all but ordered agents for El Encanto Hotel-owned by Orient-Express Hotels-to hire a mediator to hammer out their differences with a roomful of neighbors upset with the planned makeover. In a rare unanimous decision, the mayor and council voted to give both sides more time to find consensus and declined to deny or uphold the appeal filed by several hotel neighbors. At issue was a 52-space parking lot slated for the northwest corner of the seven-acre property. Neighbors charged that the noise generated by valet parking would ruin their peace and quiet. Additionally, they worried that the centralized air conditioning and heating engines slated for the same spot, though underground, might prove noisier than the Orient-Express acoustic consultants contended. Neighbors charged the hotel giant had made so many changes to the original plans, submitted in 2004, that the final iteration-approved this February by the Planning Commission-constituted “piecemeal planning.” If they didn’t get satisfaction from the council, they vowed to take their case to court to demand a full Environmental Impact Report which, to date, the project has not received. Councilmembers assured Orient-Express they didn’t want delays to turn the construction into another festering black hole, like the Carrillo Hotel, La Entrada, or the Miramar Hotel sites. Councilmember Iya Falcone expressed bewilderment that a company that initially set the gold standard for working with neighbors could now find itself the object of such intense neighborhood rancor. “What on earth went so wrong?” she asked.

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