[This letter was originally published January 7 on the news analysis site Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts.]
Last week’s announcement that Target plans to site a small store at the Galleria is being widely celebrated as a great coup for Santa Barbara.
From this planner’s perspective, however, it’s something else entirely: a big missed opportunity.
There are at least four critical planning problems with the proposal.
Location and size. Key question: Don’t we have a large, empty Macy’s downtown on top of, and next to, like a jillion parking spaces?
The new uptown Galleria proposal includes what planners call a “like-for-like” change-out of the small stores there for this, um, “big” retailer — in a mere 34,000-square-foot building.
Pent-up local consumer demand for a Target, and a lack of other stores closer than Ventura, would seem to dictate a larger-format store for Santa Barbara (even without considering our city’s budget woes or the fact that State Street and La Cumbre Mall are veritable ghost towns).
Target’s website lists its typical “flexible-format” stores at around 80,000 square feet, with its Target Express stores typically occupying between 14,000 and 21,000 square feet. Neither of those configurations resemble the 34,000-square-foot proposal, affirming the notion that this site is a compromise, at best.
Parking and traffic. According to our codes, the “like-for-like” change in tenants does not require parking to be up-sized from its current, legally nonconforming state (that’s planner-ese for under-parked).
Perhaps we’ll see some magical trade here, with empty stalls at La Cumbre eyed for Target parking. But you can expect that to result in wandering Target carts … yay. Maybe Elon Musk can invent a self-returning chip in those babies.
Housing. The last we heard, the Galleria property was slated for The Marc 2, with another version of AUD apartments, as included in the nearby, controversial Marc housing project.
Reportedly, though, the developers of The Marc (1) became too skittish amid the outgoing City Council’s thrashing around over housing policies, especially the theoretical “metering” of housing units on an annual basis. In that context, no one can blame The Marc’s developers for backing out (and the no-growth crowd is probably even celebrating).
We’ll soon see how the Target proposal affects rent rates at the Marc: Is this the right neighbor?
Will the bedrooms next door equate to customer demand at Target? Or will rents plummet back to earth amid the sound of 2 a.m. delivery trucks beeping in the night, and enthusiastic soccer moms queuing on State Street for yet another door-dinging parking stall?
Design. With the “like-for-like” change to Target, there’s simply not much the city can do now in the form of development review and regulations at the property.
The devil, as always, is in the details.
According to our city planner, Target might be on the hook for some kind of improvements on the property to improve traffic flow. Note that I said “on the property” — not off-site, because this is not a development plan (say, like with a Marc 2) for which the city might have an opportunity to negotiate intersection improvements, along with on-site aesthetic improvements in the form of design review that Santa Barbara practically invented.
Although maybe we’ll see Target bend and come up a Spanish-colonial-colored corporate logo, like in Westlake Village. Whoopee.
Bottom line. So as of now, we’ll have a mini-Target to deal with, and at least for some time before they potentially open up a large format store somewhere in Goleta, a different kind of devil on the property — one that we don’t know.
Or maybe, just maybe, someone at City Hall will wake up and smell the burnt 7-11 coffee soon to be roasting at Ortega and State Street (a story for another day) and put the brakes on this mini-monster.
Can someone please redirect all this excitement and energy into an adaptive reuse of something of magnitude and meaning for our tax base before the opportunity is lost for good?
Jay Higgins is a certified land planner and chair of the City Planning Commission.