Sansum administrators got all but the green light to begin construction on two new medical buildings located on a 200,000-square-foot triangle of unincorporated land by the intersection of Highway 154 and Foothill Road, which the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to annex this Tuesday. Sansum executive Kurt Ransohoff said the new facilities — which will be built by developer Mike Towbes — would allow Sansum to open its first surgical center and relocate a handful of medical disciplines that rely heavily on surgical support in the same building. This move, he said, would enable Sansum to treat half the South Coast residents it now serves more efficiently and prepare for the onslaught of additional patients that will be newly insured under President Barack Obama’s health-care reform legislation.
Some neighbors complained the massing of the buildings on the property had an “Orange County feel,” but councilmembers were united that the annexation made sense and would alleviate an island of unincorporated land in a sea of city jurisdiction. But the only bone of contention for the councilmembers was the fate of the “Pet Hospital” pole sign that looms large over the property.
As annexed, that sign is now governed by the city’s prohibition — passed in the 1970s — against pole signs. But because the owners of the sign and pet hospital were dragged into the annexation against their wishes, several councilmembers pushed to exempt them from the “no pole sign” ordinance completely. Councilmember Randy Rowse — who, in the early days of his restaurant business, ran into the buzzsaw of the city’s sign ordinance — empathized with the pet hospital owners. But Councilmember Bendy White recalled in vivid detail the “visual blight” inflicted by pole signs and billboards when the ordinance — was first enacted and successfully pushed to give the pet hospital owners a five-year grace period instead.
Ironically, the site where Sansum will build an outpatient surgical center was once a gas station with a leaking underground storage tank. Because of soil contamination, the gas station owners wrote into the deed of sale a restriction barring any residential development from ever taking place there. Towbes tried since then to get those provisions lifted but with no success. City planners insist the soil has been safely remediated.