A composite drawing of an older design and newer plans for the Surfliner Inn without the extended towers. | Credit: Courtesy

Carpinteria’s proposed Surfliner Inn has become a hotbed of contention between the hotel’s developers and locals who oppose the project, saying it is too large and takes away from the city’s small-town charm.

The project came before the city council again on Monday, when the council was deciding whether to accept the proposal’s latest redesign to move forward with development and permit applications. The latest project designs addressed the concerns brought up by the public during a meeting on November 30, 2020, and included a smaller footprint and overall mass to the hotel’s facade — most notably the removal of stairwell and elevator towers that originally extended above the two-floor main building.

Despite some pushback during public comment — with community members criticizing the size of the proposal and asking the council to wait before approving the hotel — the council decided to approve the project in a 3-2 vote, with councilmembers Al Clark and Natalia Alarcon voting in opposition.

With the approval, the project developers can now submit applications and enter the city development review process, including the Architectural Review Board, where it is expected to receive even more changes to the size and scale of the buildings.

Alarcon, who voted against the project, saying it was “too large,” gave credit to the developers for making an effort to address the public’s comments and added that the hotel could have a positive impact on the city. “I’d still like to see some additional changes to the overall footprint of the hotel, but I do feel as though it could bring something really positive to our community,” Alarcon said.

Mayor Wade Nomura shared similar concerns over the size but said that a change is needed to the location, which now stands as a parking lot. Without any changes, Nomura said, people stepping off a train in Carpinteria would be greeted with “a parking lot, a public restroom, and a liquor store” as their first impression of the city. If the city wants to revitalize the location, he added, the Surfliner would be perfect.

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“The hotel would fit well; it’s something that — if we could work it into being smaller in scale — it would be, in my opinion, an ideal fit,” Nomura said.

Whitt Hollis and Jeff Theimer are part of a team of locals tasked with working with developers and the city in the redesign, specifically addressing the concerns from last year’s meeting.

Hollis said the project would bring over $500,000 a year in direct revenue, and based on Oxford University Studies on impact of hotel guests on local communities, the project could “reasonably be expected to infuse an additional $2.7 million anually” to local merchants and economy.

It would create jobs at no cost to the city, Hollis said, and would help accomplish long-term goals like adding more parking in the area.

Theimer said that the size should be taken into context with other hotels in the city, such as the Best Western, which has nearly 145 rooms. “I think that the 39 rooms will be one of the smallest hotels in Carpinteria,” he said. The developers worked hard, he added, to hear the community and provide something that would benefit everybody.

“We’ve tried to take those notes as best we could on that night, and incorporate them really thoughtfully into something that is going to be an anchor and landmark, and demonstrate Carpinteria’s ability to create something special,” Theimer said. “This is gonna be more than just a hotel for visitors,” Theimer said. “We’re gonna be a hub for the community — for community events and nonprofit events.”

A petition against the Surfliner has accrued more than 1,000 signatures, and those opposed are hoping that the matter will be put to a citywide vote next November, though city officials are moving forward for now. 

The project is expected to go through city development review shortly after the project’s application is officially submitted.

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