An aerial view of the plans for Westmont, which were upheld by a judge.

WESTMONT LAWSUIT DENIED: Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle reaffirmed the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ 5-0 vote in February that approved Westmont’s Master Plan. The plan had already been okayed by the Montecito Planning Commission, but came to the supervisors when it was appealed by a group of neighborhood activists.

A rendering of the new Westmont campus.

When the board agreed with the MPC’s approval unanimously, the neighbors banded together under the name Concerned Citizens Over Westmont Expansion and filed a lawsuit against the county and Westmont in March in an attempt to block the massive building plan. In short, Anderle ruled that the analysis in the environmental impact report for Westmont’s Master Plan was exhaustive and supported by substantial evidence. He also stated that the county properly found the project consistent with the Montecito Community Plan. He supported his decision with 50 pages of documentation. No comment yet from the Concerned Citizens.

MEETING THE NEW MIRAMAR, AGAIN: Rick Caruso arrived at Monday night’s Montecito Board of Architectural Review with a team of ” L.A. suits,” as he called them, and a 75-page, newly revised architectural plan for the Miramar Hotel. Nearly 70 onlookers packed the downtown hearing hall for a gruelingly technical, two-hour architectural design hearing. Caruso pulled his initial plan last September, so Monday’s MBAR meeting, which lasted until 8 p.m., was the first official look at his redesign.

Rick Caruso stands back as his cohorts Matt Middlebrook and Michael McManus unveil the new Miramar plans.
J'Amy Brown

In his formal presentation, Caruso highlighted the following project assets:

Two-thirds of the buildings are two stories or less

Three-fourths of the buildings have six keys

The casual elegance of the historical Miramar will be retained

There will be two restaurants and a beach bar

An overview depiction of the future Miramar.

There will be a spa available for non-hotel guests

The ballroom height was reduced by 11 feet

The fa§ade along South Jameson lane has been broken up

Two lighted tennis courts have been reintroduced

Separating the banquet facilities from the lobby has broken the mass

The overabundant asphalt will be replaced with a more people pleasing landscape

Another look at the potential future of the Miramar.

Parking will be underground and valet served only

All buildings will receive heating and AC will be from a central plant

The building style will be mainly white brick and stucco in a plantation style

Large specimen trees will be saved

Landscaping will be mostly drought tolerant, with the lushest landscaping in a central interior “oasis.”

The vast majority of the audience refrained from comment due, we suspect, to the limited nature of the MBAR’s purview. The advisory design arm of the Montecito Planning Commission looks only at design, bulk, scale, mass, and neighborhood compatibility. Environmental and land use issues are not on the discussion table.

Developer Rick Caruso stands behind, from left, MBAR's Anne Almy, Ray Ketzel, and Tony Spann.
J'Amy Brown

However, in spite of the limited review parameter, MBAR Chair Tony Spann got 30 speaker slips. Montage was there to scribe a variety of the more colorful comments, both pro and con:

First, for the criticism:

“Montecito is a unique community and one reason is its rural look. The Miramar should blend nicely with that, but this design seems to be the focal point for the whole area. It does not seem compatible”

-Ted Buergey, neighbor

“This project is three and a half times bigger than the main building at Vons. It will overwhelm the community. The height is unnecessary and not warranted.”

-Larry Archibald, neighbor

“I am stunned by the massiveness of this project. The community plan requires that it be cottage style and cottage style is not just architecture, it is about size, bulk, and scale. Everybody in Montecito wants this project done, but it should be done without leaving the entryway to Montecito with a L.A.-style, oversized hotel. At the end of the day, most of the community will not use the hotel but will view it every day and they will ask, ‘How did this get approved?'”

-Dick Thielscher,former Montecito Planning Commissioner, who departed without speaking at MBAR, but submitted his remarks to the public record and later, with more clarification, to Montage.

And now, for the praise:

“This is a beautiful beach resort for the community to have. It is a win-win for the county of Santa Barbara and the residents of Montecito.”

-Bill Jones, neighbor

“The plan is a remarkable improvement over what we have today.”

-Harry Hovey, community advocate.

“If the community keeps on tweaking and pick, pick, picking, how long can we expect developers to come here and offer beautiful, positive projects?”

-Leslie Hovey, community volunteer

“It is only slightly larger than the existing hotel and, if it is one or two feet out of guidelines, I will remind you of the jewel that will be put here.”

-Mike Lodotto, neighbor

Bob Hazard at the Miramar meeting.
J'Amy Brown

“We are very lucky to have Caruso as there are thin [profit] margins on this project. Give him some leeway and give him the height variances he needs, because if we lose Rick Caruso, there will not be another developer. If we lose him we’d better rename it The Willard, because 300 rats who are now occupying will be the only ones in the current deluxe suites.”

-Bob Hazard, Montecito resident and former president of a hotel association

But enough for the community chatter, what did the members of MBAR have to say? Michele Michaelson voiced her dissatisfaction with a number of aspects in the revised project rather bluntly, explaining, “The style of this building is on the wrong coast. You talk of brick plantation style – that is East Coast, not Southern California. This project is too large and too white.” After the meeting, Caruso waved aside Michaelson’s opinion. “This project is not an East Coast design,” he said, clearly more focused on the more Miramar-positive MBAR comments.

And those included the words of Don Nulty, who told Caruso, “This reminds me of Phillip Stark [from the Ian Schrager team] who said coming to the hotel was like going to grandma’s farm, but this [Caruso] design is upscale thinking. It is world-class resort style.”

MBAR member Ray Ketzel, an architect, concurred. “This is a great project. It is going to take some massaging, but it is going to be a great benefit to the community.”

“This is what it should be,” agreed MBAR’s Peter Edwards, “and not what it used to be, which was an every day hotel on a great piece of ocean property.”

MBAR’s Marsha Zilles also offered a positive response: “This plan is much better and it shows we can all work together.” As did boardmember Sam Maphis, who said, “I have a lot of support for how far you have come and how quickly.”

MBAR’s design and compatibility comments will be earmarked for discussion at the upcoming Montecito Planning Commission meeting on January 16, 2008. No action is expected at that meeting, but we’ve been told some more controversial environmental issues like community plan adherence, traffic, hydro-impacts, drainage, and noise could come under discussion.

MA’S NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED: Bill Palladini has been nominated for a second term as president of the Montecito Association. Filling out the leadership team will be Diane Pannkuk as first vice president, Ted Tedesco as second veep, Gene Sinser as treasurer, and Monica Brock Peterson as secretary. Tedesco, the nominating committee chair, announced the slate on Tuesday, December 18. MA’s board will vote on the slate at their annual meeting on January 8.

Bill Palladini
J'Amy Brown

Palladini found himself in a bit of controversy last week when he voted against his land use committee’s recommendation to support Dave and Kay Peterson’s appeal of the Largura project.

Palladini explained, “I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. By expressing a ‘nay’ vote, I was not indicating my support of Largura nor trying to make any statement about the actions of the land use committee. It would be my hope that appeals would only be used as a last resort and issues could be resolved within the community. It was in the spirit of that thinking [in which] I was voting and I would hope the MA would do more next year to resolve issues within the community.”

The Largura appeal will be heard on Wednesday, December 19, at the Montecito Planning Commission, starting at 9 a.m. It is televised on Channel 20. The discussion will most likely revolve around the discretionary definition of “limited development” in Montecito’s resource management zone of Montecito.


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