Montecito Water Moratorium Stalls Miramar

Developer Wants Bigger Service Lines and Larger Meters

Rick Caruso
Paul Wellman (file)

The Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort, approved after 15 years of community protests, recessionary woes, and changes in ownership, is set to break ground this spring. There’s just one problem: it needs an exemption from the water moratorium in Montecito.

To comply with fire regulations, the Miramar’s owner and developer, Rick Caruso, wants to install larger water lines at the beachfront property at 1555 S. Jameson Lane. So, he is asking the Montecito Water District to replace three of the Miramar’s five existing water meters with larger meters and install a bigger service line – at no cost to the district.

In February, 2014, as the drought deepened, the district declared a water shortage emergency and stopped processing all applications for new water service. Larger meters are off-limits. With the exception of Caruso, no one has applied for any.

“Ordinance 92 expressly prohibits the increase in meter size to a property under the premise that it would increase water demand and usage to the property,” Tom Mosby, the district general manager, stated in a recent memorandum on the Miramar’s proposal.

In the fifth year of a severe drought, the two reservoirs that serve Montecito – Lake Cachuma and Jameson Lake – are at 14.7 percent and 15 percent capacity, respectively. The groundwater in district wells has dropped to near or below the historic low point.

Last week, the Operations Committee, comprised of two district board members and backed by legal counsel, reviewed the Miramar’s request and found that it was in conflict with the moratorium. Caruso’s representatives have asked that the matter be heard by the Appeals Committee, which makes recommendations to the district board of directors.

“We understand that Ordinance 92 stipulates that there is no upsizing of meters,” Evan Krenzien, vice-president of development for Caruso Affiliated Holdings LLC, said on Tuesday. “However, we feel the intent of Ordinance 92 is still accomplished, because we’re living in or slightly below our water use allocation.”

The future five-star Miramar resort – a project for 122 guestrooms, 48 suites, and two swimming pools, plus an ocean-side bar, restaurant, spa, fitness center, beach club, and outdoor ballroom – was approved by the county Board of Supervisors last April and is now completing its engineering and building plans. The Montecito Fire Department signed off on the new water system design last week.

The district has never made any exceptions to the rules of its moratorium. But Ordinance 92 allows the board to “make any adjustments and impose any conditions” if it finds that the ban “would cause an undue hardship,” or that granting an appeal “will not significantly adversely affect the goals of this Ordinance.”

A report on the Miramar’s new water system design, submitted to the district last week by Stantec, an engineering consulting firm for the project, found that it would use 43.7 acre-feet of water yearly, just under its allocation of 45 acre-feet from the district.

Increasing the size of three water meters would create a combined system for daily use and fire emergencies at the Miramar, Stantec said, adding that the five existing water meters could meet the daily needs of the resort but would be insufficient in a fire. The existing meters can supply a maximum flow of 630 gallons per minute, while the maximum needed in case of fire is more than 2,300 gallons per minute, the firm found.

“With no additional demand on Montecito Water District infrastructure to support resort operations, the proposed water meter size changes are only to accommodate a possible and highly remote fire flow condition,” Stantec said.


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