The Goleta City Council voted 4-1 last week to green light Westar Associate’s proposed mixed-use housing and commercial development on Hollister Avenue, clearing the way for the project to proceed through Design Review Board and the permitting process.
Westar’s proposal has been a hot-button issue for many of the town’s residents, who say they’re unhappy about increased traffic, obstruction of the “view corridor” to the Santa Ynez Mountains, and the loss of “small town feel,” among other concerns. However, members of the Westar team have countered that the project is a groundbreaking development in green building and sustainable design through integrating residential communities with commercial space.
The project site, located at 7000 Hollister Avenue across from the Camino Real Marketplace, is designated as a space for “medium density residential housing” in Goleta’s Master Plan. Westar’s development is currently set to offer 279 residential apartment units for rent, alongside nearly 90,000 square feet of retail space. The proposal has gone back to the drawing board several times since Westar Associates first bought the property in 2008, bouncing around in various Design Review Board and Planning Commission hearings.
On September 5, however, the Goleta Planning Commission failed to reach a consensus on the project after five hours of deliberation, saying the proposed design’s merits did not outweigh some of its negative impacts outlined in its Environmental Impact Report. The Planning Commission passed the proposal on to the City Council, but without the customary recommendation that the council approve the project. In this case, the Planning Commission and council were faced with the question of amending Goleta’s Master Plan to accommodate the project.
Even without the commission’s recommendation, Westar’s plans were accepted by the City Council last Tuesday night, as the majority of council members felt the proposal fulfilled the General Plan’s criteria for the vacant Hollister site.
The City Council’s decision will amend the Goleta General Plan’s Coastal Land Use Plan, as well as certifying a California Environmental Quality Act addendum, the project’s final Environmental Impact Report, and an an ordinance to amend the Inland Zoning Ordinance.
However, as the project moved through the channels of government, public dissent toward the substantial development steadily grew. Tuesday’s meeting was heavily attended by area residents concerned with Westar’s impact on the community, and their arguments reiterated many of the points brought up in last month’s Planning Commission meeting. However, Westar also brought out its big guns, as several members of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of the project, alongside several Westar Associates employees and Westar president Robert Best.
Eric Onnen, a member of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce and former mayor of Goleta, also lent his support to Westar, saying the development was a good fit with Goleta’s Master Plan for the site.
Harry Rouse, longtime Goleta resident, said the development was “one more bad idea writ large” and would have a significant negative impact on traffic, air quality, views, and water use in the area, comparing Goleta’s development to beachside communities like Huntington Beach that have been “paved over” and “filled up.”
Westar has altered its design several times to accommodate for public concern, most recently altering and slightly lowering the roofline of the planned commercial shopping center to preserve a small amount of the view to the mountains. Traffic, however, remained one of the major concerns, as the Storke and Hollister intersection is one of the busiest in the city. Westar presented a mitigation plan for the new development’s influx of traffic, engineered by Associated Transportation Engineers, that would widen sections of Hollister and Storke roads and add traffic signals into a revamped system for the intersection and Highway 101 access. Despite this, many members of the public felt Westar’s improvements would not be sufficient to cope with the high volume of new car trips to the area.
The council thoroughly interrogated the Westar team, voicing concerns and commendations alike — but when the time came to vote, most councilmembers were quick to voice their support. The general consensus was that the project had been exhaustively planned and thought out, and provided a fitting use of land zoned for medium-density housing in Goleta’s original General Plan. Roger Aceves and Michael Bennett emphasized the importance of fulfilling the eco-friendly features Westar’s plans promised. Even Paula Perotte, the sole vote against the development, said the Westar project “seems exceptionally worthwhile,” although she said “there are things that can’t be mitigated” and wanted a guarantee that the residential units would remain for-rent housing rather than being converted into for-sale condominiums.
Goleta Mayor Ed Easton called the program’s opposition a “perfect storm” situation, as the development was both one of the largest ever seen in Goleta and located “at a corner everyone hates,” as well as coming at the tail end of a period of slow growth in the community.
“The one thing that makes it all worthwhile is that we’re [allowing a new development] for a damn good project,” Easton said, shortly before the council’s final vote after four and a half hours of discussion and public comment. “This is a good project; it’s been thought through well; the problems have been studied. It’s been an awful lot of work.”