It’s not Godzilla versus Mothra, but by Santa Barbara standards, it might be: Bonnie Donovan going toe-to-toe with Ed St. George over a new three-story hotel he wants to build near West Beach. Donovan — smart and fierce — is a regular at City Council meetings. St. George — savvy and irresistibly congenial — is a major landlord getting into the hotel-building business in a hurry. During the past year, he has already secured approval for two hotel projects. This Thursday, the Planning Commission will decide the fate of his third, slated for the 300 block of West Montecito Street, kitty-corner from the Brewhouse and right next door to Donovan’s property.
Donovan is upset that St. George wants to knock down four rental housing units to build the hotel, which will have two lounges, a coffee shop, and a rooftop patio, and 27 of the hotel rooms will have living rooms. In 1982, she said, City Hall rejected her father’s plans to redevelop the family’s property by removing three rental cottages because “Santa Barbara didn’t have enough housing then,” Donovan recounted. “You think it’s any better now?” (Current zoning allows either hotels or housing.) Those three cottages remain today, and the hotel will encroach on the tenants’ tranquility, Donovan objected, especially the three-story mechanical stacking machine that can park 27 cars. There’s not enough parking in the neighborhood now, she said.
St. George’s plans have been to the Architectural Board of Review multiple times; project critics showed up, too. The last time, St. George’s project won approval by a 3-1 vote, the commissioners finding in his favor on such volatile issues as neighborhood compatibility and size bulk, and scale. How the Planning Commission decides is anyone’s guess. Donovan, however, pledges to oppose it “every step of the way.”