Historically, Montecito has had a penchant for the mine-is-bigger-than-yours bragging rights, and a quick drive around the community will prove that fact. There are enormous estates in Montecito, some going back to the late 1800s, and new colossusi in progress.

However, in the past few years, locals have been privately whispering, “How big is too big?” Last year that debate went public, as Rob Lowe’s and Ty Warner’s over-the-top permit hearings drew widespread attention to Montecito’s traditionally staid land-use process.

But months before the media and the general public got interested, Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the county’s Planning and Development Department (P&D), the Montecito Planning Commission (MPC), and the Montecito Board of Architectural Review (MBAR) were in the midst of a routine review of the three-year-old MPC. That evaluation left MPC and MBAR wanting to be sure they had consistent information to facilitate decision-making.

To address that need, the MPC created several study pods in November 2005 and Supervisor Carbajal assigned community members to partner with MPC, MBAR, and P&D on those teams. Of primary concern was how floor area square footage was to be calculated and what would determine neighborhood compatibility. (Neighborhood compatibility is the scale and fit of a project along with its aesthetic balance as compared to surrounding properties.)

After nearly 18 months and close to 50 topic-related meetings, the work product rolled out on April 18, disclaiming any originality. “I just want to emphasize that this is a compilation of existing data,” offered P&D Assistant Director Dianne Black. “It is not new information. It is not new interpretation. It is just a way of compiling data to help us out.” That said, here are the new “refreshments”:

Revised MBAR Application: This new form makes clear what is expected from MBAR and the applicant. There is a clarified list of submittal requirements and a new statistical table for calculating floor areas and development square footage. (For more, see www.independent.com/news/2007/jan/02/checklist-for-new-development.)

Conceptual Review Checklist: This new form allows MBAR to provide immediate feedback to the applicant and includes all the items MBAR is looking at (site, topography, grading, scale, etc.). After a conceptual review, if all items are marked “yes,” then the applicant is moving in the right direction. If not, MBAR notes what is needed, putting everybody on the same page. (See sbcountyplanning.org.)

Neighborhood Compatibility Database: The Montecito Architectural Guidelines suggest that the net floor area be in scale with the parcel size. To enforce this rule, it became important to know what currently exists. To that end, P&D hired an intern to build a 30-plus column database including every parcel in Montecito indicating, among other things, all on-the-ground structure square footages. With 4,349 parcels in Montecito and 3,010 single-family dwellings, this square footage database may get a lot of public use. It is available to the public at P&D’s permit counter and at the Montecito Association office.

Montecito Square Footage Overlay Map: The newly compiled database square footage information has been added as a layer to the county’s Photomapper program, thereby creating an aerial overview of nearby parcel sizes and house square footages.

“Common Features” Area Map: By driving around Montecito, team members Claire Gottsdanker and Bill Palladini created a map with nearly 60 Montecito subsections created from parcels bonded by common features such as major streets or similar topographies. P&D’s June Pujo clarified these hypothetically compatible areas were not designated as “neighborhoods,” but flexible “starting points” for MBAR or MPC floor area calculations.

There is, I might add, one additional calculation that may not have been considered: These “refreshed” tools could severely limit the long-traditional Montecito bragging-rights game of “Mine Is Bigger than Yours!”


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