Back in January, Rick “The Kid” Caruso strode into town boasting that he could tame the Miramar, Montecito’s dilapidated, abandoned beachfront hotel. He’d have a plan by June, the newcomer crowed. But given the trail-of-tears created by the difficult-to-develop resort – which shrugged off Ian Schrager and toyed with Ty Warner – locals stroked their muzzles, musing this L.A. tenderfoot would have a thing or two to learn about getting things done in Montecito.

The Miramar as it is today, blue, white, and dilapidated.
J'Amy Brown

But the skeptics did not deter Caruso, so precisely at 3 p.m on June 7, his posse climbed the stairs at the county’s Planning and Development Department to deliver a permit application, making good on his timeframe claim. And the plan isn’t short on detail – it takes nearly a four-inch binder to articulate Caruso’s detailed concept for reorganizing the Miramar Hotel and Bungalows.

With the ball – or binder, as it were – in their court, the county now has 30 days to deem Caruso’s application complete. With some unusual optimism, they have tentatively reserved time for Miramar design feedback on the July 30 Montecito Board of Architectural Review agenda. County departments – flood, building, fire, air pollution, environment, among others – will also take an initial look at the development, which explains why Caruso had to deliver a reported nine boxes of binders to the county. Senior planner Julie Harris has been assigned the project and county planner Nicole Mashore will assist her.

Caruso, we’re told, plays to an on-target-timetable, and his team burned the midnight oil to get the application in on the dime. It’s rumored he intends to have permits in place and ground broken by January 1, 2008. While this would be lightning speed and normally laughable for a Montecito project, with his application delivered on time, doubters are becoming believers. Quick-Draw Caruso could be the big gun to get astonishing things done.

Not chancing a neighborhood grumble to cause a halting stumble, the Caruso team met with Miramar’s closest neighbors simultaneously with the application’s delivery. At 3:05 p.m. on June 7, Caruso’s Bill Reich, vice president of hotels and resorts, and Rick Lemmo, vice president of community relations, sat down for to reveal the project to inner-circle Miramar neighbors Steve Traxler (president of the Seaside Homeowners Group), Mimi and Michael DeGruy, and Mike and Laura Lodato. And rather than the standard Montecito anti-modification moan, this courtesy review group greeted the plan with cheery “Here’s to the New Year!” toasts.

Steve Traxler

“It’s nothing but good and positive,” said Traxler after the meeting. “Caruso asked for our input and then he listened. Whatever was suggested was not ignored. This plan is better than before.”

Traxler said one unique aspect of the plan, and one that requires strong neighborhood support, will be to vacate the Miramar Avenue, which currently splits the hotel property in two segments. “Caruso is working closely with us to make that (road abandonment) happen,” Traxler said.

He said one initial neighborhood concern was safety and fire truck access to the hotel and houses behind the hotel. Traxler said Caruso has designed emergency access via a unique hardscape that looks like grass but is wide enough and strong enough allow for easy fire truck right access through the property. “The road is really still there,” Traxler said. He added he did not know of any neighbors opposed to the abandonment of Miramar Avenue. “Actually they like it because they end up with a cul-de-sac on their road and that adds to property values.”

The look proposed by Rick Caruso for the remodeled Miramar bungalows.

The Caruso plan proposes to bulldoze all current structures. They will be replaced with 209 guest rooms (down from the 213 previously approved for Schrager). The design calls for shingle-sided bungalows to dot the property. The current blue roofs are to be has-beens; the new cottages will sport cedar-colored roofs. And, if the drought does not cause water to become an issue, Caruso envisions a lush tropical look, with leggy palms lining meandering paths and tropical flowering plants decorating expansive lawns.

Other proposed features include an ocean-view restaurant, a poolside cafe, and a beachfront bar. The Miramar will have a conference center, banquet faculties, a spa, two pools, and mostly underground parking, providing 575 stalls – over 100 more spots than the previously approved Schrager plan. There will be a private beach club for 300 members (up from Schrager’s 140 allotment), juxtapositioning the four units dedicated to affordable employee housing. A sound barrier hedge is planned along South Jameson Lane and 62 public parking spots will be designated on South Jameson and Eucalyptus Lane.

Neighbor Laura Lodato summed up what seems to be the initial neighborhood response to the newly revealed plan: “I am very picky, but there is nothing so far that I would want to change. I am really very pleased. They have bent over backwards to embrace the community. The plan is perfect!” And with those words ringing in his ears, Caruso can, for now, ride off into the Montecito sunset singing “Yippee-ki-yea-ki-yea!”

CULTURAL TIES: Long summer nights and poppy-colored sunsets have

brought a round of cultural arts activities to Montecito calendars. Last Friday, the Music Academy of the West hosted an update event to show off renderings of their soon-to-be under construction $15.2 million recital hall.

Nancy Hunter and Diane Sullivan, capital contribution co-chairs for the Music Academy of the West.
J'Amy Brown

With August 16 as the expected shovel-to-dirt beginning of construction, Nancy Hunter and Diane Sullivan, the renaissance committee’s capital campaign chairs, reviewed the project and renewed donor enthusiasm. The new hall will seat an audience of more than 300 in theater-style, raked seating and feature a dropped acoustic ceiling. A new ticket box, with more convenient access, and student practice rooms below the stage level will be part the new building design.

Hunter said the academy has financing in place to cover the cost of the upcoming construction – a fully subscribed bond 30-year bond. But, she added, there is need for an additional $8.25 million to ultimately cover the costs. “There are ample naming opportunities left,” she noted.

The Music Academy will be a topic of conversation at the Montecito Planning Commission meeting on June 20, when they submit their Parking and Traffic Plan for approval. It’s part of their building permit conditions and construction can’t begin until it is sorted out.

Several neighbors have voiced concern the plan does not go far enough to curb the traffic cutting through their neighborhood from Cabrillo to Butterfly Beach. One simple solution that has certainly curbed Montage’s enthusiasm for cutting through – just closing the academy’s big iron gate. My humbling return to the main drag after being greeted by the shut iron gates has indelibly cast a waste-of-time image in my short cut brain.

ART IN SCHOOLS: The Arts Fund is hosting their 13th Annual Teen Art Mentorship Show.

Lyndsey Harrington on her graduation day.
J'Amy Brown

This program provides mentorship to aspiring high school artists, allowing the students to work closely with professional artists to develop technical skills. The show runs until June 23 at 205 Santa Barbara Street. Mentors are Rafael Perea de la Cabada in contemporary painting and photographer Nell Campbell in documentary photography.

The students displaying works in the contemporary art category are Rosalee Pfeffer, Einar Birnir, Alexis Keramaris, Lauren Parsons, and Mireya Avila. The photography artists are Lily Trotter, Keenan Hunt, Lyndsey Harrington, David Herschorn, and Christopher McDermut. One of Nell’s students, Lyndsey Harrington, took several artistic photographs in Montecito, ranging from the foothills to the flats.

Don’t miss this show, it will let you know why we need art in our schools – these students have formidable talent that should be showcased. Thanks to the Arts Fund, the professionals, and the teachers who created this opportunity for art to show and glow!

Lily Sanders
J'Amy Brown

MONTECITO WATERCOLORS: Few places lend themselves to being painted as perfectly as Montecito and few artists captured that beauty as well as watercolorist Lily Sanders. Sanders often produces the images featured in Montecito Magazine and she was a featured artist in the San Ysidro Ranch show and the Music Academy of the West’s Wine Auction Show. Sanders has a light touch, keen compositional eye, and luscious pallet choice that showcases Montecito’s unique colors and discreet light. Gallery 113 is located in La Arcada Court #8, 1114 State Street, and Lily’s show runs until June 30.

SCHOOL DAYS: Renowned architect Jeff Shelton has done some renderings of “Safe Route to School” on display at Cold Spring School until June 14.

Jeff Shelton's rendering of Cold Spring School.

Jeff uses his whimsical style to showcase in a delightful manner a pedestrian route that could be semi-rural and functional. Montage particularly likes the dog trough, as sometimes Montage wonders if, indeed, Montecito hasn’t gone to the dogs!

NO FOOL LIKE AN OLD FOOL: Montage has found herself as part of The Independent‘s 2007 Traffic Solutions Team Bike Challenge, from June 1 to June 30! Don’t ask how this happened, but my team is known as The Inkspillers, which will give you some clue.

J'Amy Brown on her fancy red bicycle.
Paul Lucey

Given Montage has not been on a bike in years, the crew at Santa Barbara Electric Bicycles fixed me up just fine to keep up with the flat bellies at The Indy, so I am zooming around Montecito garnering miles and attention – and thinking it is pretty fun to be older and smarter as I electric myself along!

The contest runs for the entire month of June, and teams the number of utilitarian trips taken by bike in June. Go to to sign up!


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