Caruso and Neighbors Make Strange Bedfellows

Developer Joins in Challenging Miramar Approval

Developer Rick Caruso and Montecito neighbors are both worried about parking but for different reasons.
Paul Wellman (file)

Conditions imposed by the Montecito Planning Commission in its recent approval of Rick Caruso’s Miramar Hotel proposal proved too strict for the developer, who filed an appeal with the county on Wednesday. Caruso joined Richard and Dana Pachulski — whose vacation home neighbors the property — in challenging the decision, although the two parties’ complaints stem from opposite views of the hotel’s parking plan. The decision will now rest with the Board of Supervisors. Others wishing to appeal have until Monday to do so.

“We are pleased that our Miramar project was recently approved by the Montecito Planning Commission on January 21,” read a statement released by Caruso’s development company, Caruso Affiliated. “This is a step in the right direction; however, the commission imposed new conditions on the project that will have a significant impact on business operations.” Continuing, Caruso’s statement thanked the community for “its overwhelming support of the project” and said, “We look forward to moving ahead as soon as possible.”

But cramping Caruso’s style, he alleged in the appeal, are the commission’s stipulations that he initially limit beach club memberships to 100 and events to 350 people. Capping club memberships at 100 — Caruso proposed 200 — “creates significant obstacles for the successful operation and financing of the project,” the appeal stated. Within three years, the commission could allow up to 300 members if the hotel’s questioned parking scheme pans out. Caruso pointed to his 2011 iteration of the hotel — like the 2008 version, it was approved by the county but never got off the ground — which allowed 300 memberships.

Caruso also voiced concerns about a three-year moratorium on increasing memberships, asking the Board of Supervisors to consider a two-year window instead, given the 2011 plan’s 12-18-month window. Overall, Caruso said that limiting the memberships would be “inconsistent with the economically sound enhancement of public recreational opportunities along the coast.”

Of the event size restriction — which could eventually reach 400 — Caruso again referred back to his two previous pitches. In 2008, the county okayed a 600-person limit, and in 2011, 500 people were allowed. Imposing the new rules, the appeal stated, “not only implicates basic notions of fundamental fairness, but also threatens to put the Miramar Hotel at a competitive disadvantage relative to the nearby Biltmore,” which holds 500-person functions.

At the root of the concerns— and what consumed the bulk of the commission’s recent eight-hour hearing — is parking. Caruso’s team maintains that the 436 parking spots for 170 rooms — and for event-goers and club members — is adequate and in fact would present “a surplus” of up to 35 leftover parking spots even with a fully booked hotel and 200 club memberships.

The Pachulski family, however, alleged in their appeal — filed a day ahead of Caruso’s — that the project is “severely underparked” and “will significantly burden the limited supply of existing public parking” for residents who rely on street spots (like the Pachulskis) and beachgoers.


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