The war of words and morally informed eating habits that have raged across the country since Chick-fil-A head honcho Dan Cathy announced his decidedly anti-gay marriage opinions came to roost in Santa Barbara this week.
The controversial, poultry-powered fast-food chain has been in the city planning approval process for months now as it prepares to move into the once-upon-a-time Burger King on the 3700 block of State Street. The project received approval from the Architectural Board of Review (ABR) last year, but this week, with the plan returning for final sign-off on some late-hour landscaping tweaks, the board majority, for what appeared to be political reasons stemming from the gay-marriage flap, opted to abstain from voting on Monday.
That effectively prevented the project from getting, at least for the time being, some of the necessary building permits it needs to move forward. After some awkward silence and refusing of urges from staff to take a vote on the revisions, the board voted 5-0 to table the topic for two weeks.
Last month, when the same landscaping and patio changes were before the all-volunteer board, members Gary Mosel and Keith Rivera opted to abstain from the vote, but the changes eventually moved ahead after a post-meeting consent was granted by the board’s Vice-Chair Paul Zink.
This time around, with the item on the board’s Consent Agenda for a final procedural approval, the duo again chose to abstain and were joined by fellow members Kirk Gradin, Chris Gilliland, and Stephanie Poole for a variety of reasons. Board Chair Dawn Sherry and Zink were absent. Explaining his decision to withhold a vote on the project, Mosel said from the dais, “For political reasons, I cannot vote on that.”
In the wake of the non-vote, City Councilmember Cathy Murillo, who, along with her fellow councilmembers, will eventually rule on any possible appeals stemming from the ABR’s final vote, said City Hall has already received a large volume of calls and emails both supporting and opposing the ABR’s decision to make no decision at all.
[UPDATE, 10:00 a.m.]: In the wake of the non-vote, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider addressed the issue in an open letter to the community on Tuesday evening. Explaining first that she too does not agree with the views of Chick-fil-A’s CEO, Schneider took exception with the politicizing of an otherwise non-political process.
“The City’s approval process about Chick-fil-A’s building application is not about gay marriage, it’s about the design of a building, and the approval of the project should be based on those merits alone,” wrote the mayor, later adding, “I would hope that the project would be approved or denied based not on personal, religious, or political beliefs, but on the merits of the application.”
To that end, City Planner Bettie Weiss informed ABR members late Tuesday that, despite their abstention, city staff issued an after-the-fact administrative approval of the landscaping and patio tweaks, thus allowing building permits to go forward.