A new facility to serve people with Alzheimer’s disease might now be built on a vacant lot on South Hope Avenue that’s zoned for auto dealerships thanks to a key procedural vote by the Santa Barbara City Council this week. With no opposition — but considerable misgivings expressed by Mayor Helene Schneider — the council voted to amend the specific plan governing the 25-acre swatch of land known as Rancho Arroyo to allow the development of an Alzheimer’s care facility or rental housing on a triangular lot — 1.76 acres big — that’s constrained by seismic faults, setback requirements, and a creek bed.
Matthew Graham of Graham Chevrolet showed up — accompanied at the council podium by his wife and infant child — and objected that residents of the new facility would be subjected to loud noises and bright lights from all the dealerships at night. Graham said that trucks bearing the cars of tourists who lost their keys arrive at all hours of the night and that, invariably, the car alarms of such cars are activated upon delivery. “It’s just so random,” he said. “You have no idea when it’s going to be.” City Hall created the auto mall in that neighborhood in the mid-1980s, and administrators have been loath to surrender the sales-tax potential posed by a potential car lot on the site. But because the lot is only half the size of viable car lots in the area — and has environmental constraints — there have been no takers in the auto sales industry for more than 25 years. Councilmember Cathy Murillo noted that the nearby Mel Clayton dealership has been vacant so long that weeds reclaimed the parking lot, indicating a shift in car-buying habits. She also waxed wistful about the miniature-golf course that once was on the site, suggesting such a course would be good for at-risk teens. “I am a great miniature-golf-course person,” she added. “I’m a great putter.”
Mayor Schneider went along only reluctantly, recalling her great disappointment at having voted to allow a housing development on land zoned for manufacturing on East Montecito. She said she had been told it would provide housing affordable to nonprofit-agency employees. After the initial developer went bankrupt, a new developer built the condos, but at market rates and not for nonprofit workers. The mayor opened her remarks making a plea for a new green dealership. “Elon Musk, if you’re listening,” she said, “we love Tesla.”