Rick Caruso at the Montecito Planning Commission (Jan. 21, 2015)
Paul Wellman

An eight-hour hearing on Wednesday brought a temporary semblance of completion to the years-long saga of resurrecting the Miramar Hotel, with the Montecito Planning Commission voting 3-2 in favor of the most recent plans.

But by Thursday morning, one neighbor announced he would be appealing the decision to the Board of Supervisors, pointing to questions — which consumed the majority of the commission’s meeting — over the hotel’s parking. Developer Rick Caruso didn’t look too pleased following the approval either because of all the conditions that were added, and his team didn’t respond to questions regarding an appeal from his end. All parties who wish to challenge the decision have 10 days.

Montecito Commissioners (L to R) Joe Cole, Jack Overall, J’Amy Brown, Michael Phillips, Sue Burrows (Jan. 21, 2015)
Paul Wellman

Caruso — the third developer who has vied to rebuild the storied property in 15 years and has pitched two previously approved plans himself — brought to the table some changes to the 170-room and 436-parking spot project he presented to the commission in December. He didn’t reduce the room count or increase the number of parking spaces, but he offered some alterations meant to appease nearby residents.

For one, the beach club was moved to the other side of the property, Miramar Avenue was widened from 16 feet to 20 feet, and parking spots on Eucalyptus Lane were angled to allow for safer turning. The developer also offered to provide 50 off-site parking spots for staff; questions about enforceability and feasibility — given the employee-parking problems that have plagued the El Encanto hotel — quashed that.

As they did at the previous meeting, Caruso and company also offered up certain parking-related conditions to be overseen by the commission. The hotel would have a traffic coordinator, event sizes, hours, and staffing levels would be documented, and beach club memberships would be limited until the parking situation was deemed adequate.

But the commission, responding to letters and public comments questioning the adequacy of the parking situation, levied tighter conditions on the project. Employee parking, the commission said, has to be kept on-site and events limited to 350 people, with up to 400 people allowed 12-18 months out. Beach club memberships would be restricted to 100 to start, with up to 300 three years out.

But for the Pachulski family, who has owned a neighboring vacation home since 1999, the commission’s vote didn’t do enough to address their concerns. “We were glad all five planning commissioners agreed that the parking solutions proposed by Caruso are inadequate to protect the community,” said family spokesperson Andrew Rice. “Unfortunately, three of them decided to tackle the parking problem by placing difficult-to-monitor event cap restrictions on the Miramar project rather than just requiring that Caruso build enough on-site parking for all the resort’s needs.”

Matt Middlebrook with Caruso Affiliated answers Planning Commission questions (Jan. 21, 2015)
Paul Wellman

Continuing, Rice said the divided vote encapsulated the “serious issues” surrounding the parking. “My clients are going to appeal this decision until there is a fair resolution,” he said.

Matt Middlebrook, Caruso’s right-hand man, said the team was “cognizant” of the worries but said the project’s parking spot-to-room ratio — 2.6 — was better than that of El Encanto (1.03) and the Biltmore (2.2). Strictly limiting the size of events as the commission did, Middlebrook said, would significantly “whack the revenue” of the hotel. “It’s in everybody’s interest over time that hotel is successful,” he said. “You don’t want a failed project.” Middlebrook has previously said the construction would cost Caruso $200 million.

“This project is for 100 years,” said commissioner J’Amy Brown, who voted with Jack Overall against the proposal. “Our grandchildren’s children will be going there. I think it falls on the Caruso team to provide the parking they need.”


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