The vacant lot across Hollister Avenue from the air traffic control tower at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport may soon be replaced with a 140-room extended stay hotel. With a four-to-one vote on Monday night, the Goleta Planning Commission voted to recommend that the city council approves the proposed Marriott Residence Inn at the corner of Hollister Avenue and Robin Hill Road. The one dissenting vote – Commissioner Ed Easton – reflected the concerns of area Chumash who spoke during the public comment period, saying that more could be done to protect cultural resources on the property. However, the other commissioners voted in a manner consistent with the planning staff’s recommendation that the project be moved forward.
The hotel project proposed for the site – a three-story structure designed in a style described as “contemporary Mediterranean” – has already been through the Design Review Board. The Irvine-based R.D. Olsen Development, which has recently built a number of Marriott Residence Inns in Southern California, is tasked with building the one in Goleta. Officials from the company touted the new hotel’s conference room space, swimming pool and spa, and tax revenues as benefits to the City of Goleta, calling it a vital aesthetic and infrastructure improvement for the Hollister corridor.
However, members of the public who spoke during the public comment period were more concerned about the potential impact upon cultural resources. The majority of those who approached the podium were from various Chumash Indians groups and requested that archaeological excavations be completed prior to driving support piles for the structure. Among those speaking were Freddie Romero, of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Tribal Elders Council, and Janet Garcia, of the Coastal Band of Chumash. Barbara Massey, who is affiliated with the Citizens Planning Association, pointed out that the archaeological investigation and the air quality report were prepared by Dudek Engineering and Environmental, a firm hired by R.D. Olsen. “Please carefully consider this project and its impact on the community,” she implored of commissioners.
Hours of discussion ensued, with commissioners, planning staff, and the project applicant weighing the various impacts of the development. R.D. Olsen officials stated that excavations of the areas where the support piles would be driven would necessitate driving the piles even more deeply, adding an estimated $400,000 to the project’s cost. Despite Easton’s repeated statements that the hotel space is not needed in Goleta -particularly in light of the fact that the commission recently approved the Rincon Palms Hotel for the corner of Hollister Avenue and Storke Road – Planning and Environmental Director Steve Chase said that the Residence Inn is the kind of economic development that the city wants. “Staff’s approach to this was that the General Plan spoke to this type of project,” he said. “We looked at it as our job to make this sort of thing work. We may not have a perfect solution, but we’ve tried to balance things out.”
Easton, however, could not be convinced, and in the local politics version of a filibuster, aired his many objections to the project. “It’s a too large effort to maximize revenue,” he said. “It pushes every envelope to maximize profit. Planning is about what goes where and when it goes there.” He continued, saying that he didn’t object to having a hotel built on the site, but didn’t feel that there was adequate evidence showing that it was needed at this time. Other concerns raised by the Commission included the building’s height -which includes peak architectural projections ranging from 39 to 40.9 feet – storm water runoff issues caused by impermeable parking surfaces, and the development’s impacts upon area traffic. In the end, the majority of the Commission decided that since the project will still have to go through the City Council for approval and back to the Design Review Board for final review, initiation would be the best option. Commission president Kenneth Knight called it an “overall excellent project,” with a few details that need to be worked out.