Nothing Fatal In St. Francis EIR

by Nick Welsh

The final environmental impact report for one of the largest
housing projects to hit downtown Santa Barbara — Cottage Hospital’s
plan to tear down the former St. Francis Hospital and build 115 new
homes in its place — contains no new surprises and no findings that
could prove fatal to the project. Because Cottage has pledged to
sell 81 of the units to its employees at sub-market rates, the plan
enjoys strong support within City Hall. The environmental analysis
identified short-term construction noise as one of two significant
but unavoidable impacts. Construction is estimated to last 67

In addition, the environmental review concluded that the
increased traffic generated by the housing development had “the
potential to result in a small but significant contribution” to
peak hour traffic problems at several downtown intersections. The
report expressed skepticism that the cross-town shuttle Cottage has
proposed to mitigate the added congestion would do what it promised
or that it was legally enforceable. While Cottage’s commitment to
affordable housing is historic in dimension, it has sparked heated
opposition from neighborhood activists who argue that the old St.
Francis hospital should not be demolished, but instead re-used for
housing. In addition, they contend, the project is too big for the
neighborhood and the dust and diesel emissions during construction
will pose a significant health hazard. They have argued for more
time to review the final environmental document beyond the August
17 hearing before the Planning Commission, and in that regard won a
partial victory. Although the August 17 hearing will proceed as
scheduled, no final decision will be made until September 14.


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