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Revised plans for Santa Barbara’s new downtown police station drew decidedly mixed reviews and a got a decidedly mixed vote — 4 to 2 — by members of the Architectural Board of Review (ABR) but one that managed to get the green light to proceed at the special meeting held Friday, February 12.

Members of the ABR were unanimous in their “appreciation” that the new renderings were less “austere” than earlier architectural plans for the four-story structure (three above ground and one below). The station is to be built at the parking lot on the corner of Cota and Santa Barbara streets where the Saturday Farmers Market now takes place. But there were plenty of misgivings expressed as well.

When built, the new structure’s parking lot — 244 spaces — will dominate the building’s Cota Street face. Commission Chair Kevin Moore expressed alarm at the “dead frontage,” adding “Cota Street is going to be essentially devoid of activity.”

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Commissioner Dennis Whelan said the current proposal “has a looming watchtower look.” (The police building design expert hired by City Hall had said the structure should say to the public: “We’re here to help; we’re not above you.”) Whelan also warned that the 5,000-square-foot public plaza at its Santa Barbara Street entrance — set aside for public events — will be “chilly and clammy” since it won’t get much sunlight.

Most members preferred that the new entrance be on Cota Street rather than Santa Barbara Street. But they were swayed by architect Brian Cearnal’s summation. “As much as it is important for me to create a beautiful civic building,” he said, “the building has to work for the police department.”

The existing stationhouse was built in 1958, is not seismically safe, and is so small that the department has been forced to locate four key departmental functions in separate buildings. The new building is budgeted to cost $80 million, though the exact costs — like the final design — are far from certain.

The ABR vote, which found that the proposal conformed to city land-use policies, including compatibility with the neighborhood, now sends it to the city’s Planning Commission. That body will decide whether to approve its height. The building height is designed to be 53 feet, though the limit for that neighborhood is 45 feet. If approved, the project reverts back to the ABR for further deliberation. “I’m determined to see it through to where you appreciate it,” vowed Cearnal.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the location of the proposed police station is in a flood plain.

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