A rendering of the 250-room tentatively named Garden Street Hotel. | Credit: City of Santa Barbara

A new 250-room hotel project tucked behind the Funk Zone is back on the table at City Hall, with the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission unanimously agreeing on Wednesday to move the project forward nearly three years after the city had last reviewed the application.

The city’s Planning Commission last took a look at the hotel in August of 2019, when at least some of the commissioners at the time questioned whether the hotel was the right decision when the city was facing its own housing crisis — a crisis that has been exacerbated even further in the past three years — while others worried about a large-scale development so close to the coastline, given the slow but still ever-looming danger of sea-level rise.

Some form of the hotel has been in the works even longer, with property owner Bill Wright and former Santa Barbara mayor — now planning commissioner — Sheila Lodge signing the Specific Plan in 1983, which extended Garden Street through Cabrillo and made plans for a 250-room hotel, a 450,000-foot public market, and an aquarium. 

“This is finally the one piece of the Specific Plan that seems to be moving forward,” Historic Landmarks Commissioner Dennis Doordan said during the Wednesday, May 25, meeting.

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The site stretches along the southwest corner of Garden Street, from Yanonali to the train tracks, where the 4.5 acres of storage sheds and five existing structures will have to be cleared to make room for the 235,690-square-foot hotel and its 250 rooms. The hotel is slated to have 120 “standard guest rooms,” 130 “extended stay” rooms, a roof deck, bar, lounge, and food prep area.

An underground parking garage at the location will have spaces for 233 vehicles, and there will be an additional 33 spaces above ground.

The tentatively named Garden Street Hotel, designed by the Cearnal Collective, shows renderings of a Monterey and Spanish Colonial Revival style, sticking to aesthetics laid out through the city’s El Pueblo Viejo Design guidelines. The extended stay and standard rooms are located on opposite wings, allowing for one section of the hotel to be used for short-term visitors, and the other for long-term stays.

The commissioners found that the project was compatible with design guidelines, matched the architectural character of the city and neighborhood, and was an appropriate size and scale for the location. The commission agreed to move the project forward to the Planning Commission, though the Historic Landmarks Commission will get another round of approval as the project moves along through the rest of the review and permitting process.

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