Developers of a proposed 99-room hotel-restaurant-farmhouse concept that would sprawl over 27 acres of what is now a driving range, farmland, and the Carpinteria Bluffs asked for public input in the first review of the project in a rare joint meeting between the Carpinteria City Council, Planning Commission, and the Architectural Review Board Wednesday night.
The project’s principal planner, Laurel Fisher-Perez of Suzanne Elledge Planning and Permitting Services, presented the conceptual design with property owner and project applicant Matthew Goodwin of Carp Bluff, LLC. The goal was to gauge community interest in what was the project’s first public foray. “Your feedback tonight will be very important to us in informing our next steps on this,” she said.
The community’s message in a standing-room-only, jam-packed City Hall was loud and clear: Carpinterians want nothing to do with a large-scale development on what one citizen called the “most accessible, equitable, and important natural space” in the city.
The site has seen many development proposals dating back to the late ’60s. In 2006, a property owner got as far as presenting a concept to city staff, but ultimately, the property was foreclosed and set to be auctioned off in 2013. The city’s attempt to stop the auction and purchase the property failed, and it was sold in 2014. The last attempt to develop a similar project in 2015 ended with a wave of community backlash, and judging by Wednesday’s meeting, this new development may be meeting the same fate.
Julia Mayer, owner of Dune Coffee Roasters and a community activist who played a major role in the push for Carpinteria’s new skatepark, spoke at the meeting. Surrounded by her kids and their friends, Mayer thanked the developers for providing the opportunity to keep what she said has become a “rite of passage” for every new generation in Carpinteria: “protesting against the development of our precious bluffs.”
“I personally have clear memories of being a little kid standing with many of the moms and dads in this room right now to speak up and protect the bluffs,” Mayer said. “Many of our elders who are no longer with us taught us early that stewarding this land is our job if we are lucky enough to grow up here.”
Mayer pointed to the city’s own general plan, which states that the Carpinteria Bluffs are the “last remaining coastal open space” within Santa Barbara County.
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“The moment this land is developed, it is gone forever; we will never get the opportunity to get it back,” she said, fighting back tears. “The severity and finality of that will make your heart break.”
Ted Rhodes, president of Citizens for Carpinteria Bluffs, said he was shocked when he read the proposal and found they had used one of his photographs on the very last page. The photograph, taken by Rhodes in 1990, shows a trail on the bluffs, overlaid with the words “Our goal is to humbly create a place that we are proud of and that the community of Carpinteria is proud to have,” written by the developers.
He was upset at first that it was used without permission but later said he thought it was fitting that they used a photograph that was on one of three posters to save the Carpinteria Bluffs the last time it was slated to be developed.
“I believe what the community envisions is in that picture right there: Its open space,” Rhodes said. “Whether it be Tee Time and coastal agriculture, or just passive and active recreation, that’s what the community wants. There are no buildings to put in there to enhance it.”
City Councilmember Gregg Carty said he was intrigued by the plan at first. “There were a lot of things that were hard to not like,” he said. But seeing the community so engaged in the city process touched him. “I’m really impressed with how they taught their kids and their kids and their kids to respect what we have in Carpinteria.”
He praised Mayer and said that the community valued that land more than anything else. “To our community, that’s the big value,” he said. He addressed the developer and asked that one more option be added to his application: a concept that would promise to preserve his property as open land for the generations to come.
The project planners’ next steps would be a formal application followed by what would be a gauntlet of red tape, including reviews by the Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission, City Council, and California Coastal Commission.
“We are carefully considering the comments from the public, Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission, and City Council,” Principal Planner Perez told The Independent in the days following the meeting. “We look forward to iterative discussions with the community and intend to proceed with a revised concept.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on April 5 to add comments from the project’s principal planner.