A proposed 30-room, self check-in hotel project at 812 Garden Street has raised some eyebrows among those at the senior living cottages next door after the project received final design approval through the Historic Landmark Commission’s consent agenda on March 2.
Several members of the public reached out to the commissioners, including Laguna Cottage for Seniors Executive Director and former Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation commissioner Beebe Longstreet.
“It’s a very quiet area and it has a lot of seniors,” Longstreet told the Independent. The fact that it slid under the radar and landed on the consent agenda to receive final approval also rubbed some in the community the wrong way, she said.
During the approval, Historic Landmarks Commission Vice Chair Steve Hausz addressed Longstreet and others’ concerns, reiterating that the approval was for the exterior changes to the existing building itself, and operations and interior changes were not within the commission’s purview.
“They were very minor exterior changes, so it was appropriate to go to consent,” he said, “but otherwise it was in conformance with the municipal code and all other requirements, so we had very little purview over it.” He also addressed the decision’s finality.
“Though it might be ‘final’ approval — which was the concern of some of them, that they would have no opportunity to provide input — it was only the final approval of the design of the exterior,” Hausz said.
At the City Council meeting shortly after the commission’s final approval, Longstreet spoke during public comment, bringing up the issues of noise, security, and parking; most of all, she expressed concerns over what she said would be an “unregulated” hotel.
“We’re looking at 30 units of, basically, Airbnb,” Longstreet said. She worries that the influx of short-term visitors without a lobby or check-in desk could be a recipe for disaster, and cited a California code that says any apartment building with more than 12 units must have on-site management. If security issues were to arise, she said, the Laguna Cottage site managers would likely have to respond.
“How is this going forward, and who enforces the lack of management?” she asked.
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The owner and man behind the project is Arvand Sabetian, a Bay Area native who now lives in Santa Barbara and made waves as a young entrepreneur cracking Inc.com’s 30 Under 30 list in 2013 for a company he founded in his junior year of high school. He sold the company, Arvixe, in 2014 for $22 million and has since started a new company, Ziprent, which is described as “next generation property management.”
Sabetian said he hopes to work with the city and his new neighbors and said the reason the project didn’t require more fanfare and public hearings was because it was mostly exterior changes, and a commercial-to-commercial conversion did not require extensive redevelopment.
The plan rendering shows an office building converted into 30 individual units, each with their own kitchenette, and the addition of a 998-square-foot mezzanine. The biggest change would be the addition of an elevator in the place of an existing staircase.
Sabetian has another space in Santa Barbara, Casa Valerio at 6 East Valerio Street, which is a smaller-scale version of what he would be offering on Garden Street. At the new location, renters would receive a personalized key code on their phone, which would be specific to their stay. When guests check out, a cleaning service receives another message to clean and check the unit. With 30 units, Sabetian said there would rarely be a day with no staff on-site. Overall, he feels as though his neighbors share the same goals in keeping the location quiet and safe.
“The concerns about safety issues is also a concern for me,” Sabetian said. “I really value the reputation, and to do that, I have to provide a quiet place.”
He added that the lack of a lobby, while it sounds like it would be a free-for-all, actually leads to a more low-key location. Without a lobby or pool, guests have no place to congregate and typically go off to explore the city. “It’s not a resort. People aren’t really gonna hang out.”
He is even trying out new security measures at his Valerio location, which triggers when sound levels reach a certain decibel level and alerts the managers. Since he has operated in Santa Barbara, he said, he has never had a police report.
The Garden Street location also has 23 dedicated parking spaces, and Sabetian intends to keep them all available for potential guests. He intends to begin construction as soon as he is permitted but said he would continue to work with neighbors with any concerns they may have.