Not at Micheltorena and Olive Streets

It was a typical example of overreaching by a development team that confidently strode into City Hall with an attitude that they shouldn’t even have to be there. They had already refused to work with neighbors to make their project more compatible — something that has been done over many years, including large projects at nearby Laguna Court (redesigned in bungalow style, and three original bungalows preserved and restored to keep the graceful and traditional streetscape), and even the Cottage Health condo project that replaced St. Francis Hospital was partially reworked to fit in with the adjacent neighborhood’s bungalow style .

They even provided us with a lecture about the architect Irving Gill — whose work was the inspiration for the towering proposed project. They tried to make the case that his spare designs built in San Diego, Long Beach, and Santa Monica translate perfectly to a structure plunked down on a prominent elevated corner in a bungalow neighborhood in Santa Barbara.

Maybe they should have emulated the work of noted architect Wallace Neff instead, who built his first home in 1919, an elegant, modest house for his mother, in the Bungalow Haven district on Alta Vista Road, before moving on to great acclaim in Pasadena, San Marino, and Beverly Hills.

But the developers’ insistence that neighborhood compatibility was a moot point — emboldened by the indefensible approval by the Architectural Board of Review — was lost during the appeal once the rules were invoked.

The “Lower Riviera Special Design District Guidelines” were developed for the entire bungalow area — Anapamu to Micheltorena, Alta Vista to Laguna — after years of careful research, information-gathering, and collaboration between the neighbors and the city. As noted on the city’s website, “These guidelines, adopted in 2006, will serve to assist property owners, architects, contractors, and commissions and design review boards to design projects that will be appropriate, compatible, and beneficial to the Special Design District, and to assist the City in reviewing applications for new projects and alterations to structures within, and in close proximity to, the proposed Historic District.”

If only these long-codified guidelines had been implemented, the inappropriate design would have been rejected early-on, saving a great deal of private and taxpayer time and money. Thankfully, the appeal process worked this time, with a 7-0 vote in favor of the neighbors. But City Council should never have had to be consulted about this one.

In the current all-out rush to build ever-more housing in Santa Barbara, there is something that matters more than squeezing in units on every corner. The context of the corner has to be considered, and those responsible for the “approval process” — members of city staff, boards, and commissions — can’t cut corners along the way.

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