Carpinteria’s small-town identity may be going through some big changes soon, with three big-thinking developments slated to reshape the look and feel of the main strip on Linden Avenue.
In a community typically resistant to change — full of residents not shy about voicing their displeasure with new developments — Carpinteria’s city leadership is learning how to adjust with the times and find ways to modernize the city in a way that keeps the sleepy-beach-town authenticity but doesn’t leave it lost in the past.
The Surfliner Inn
In what seems to be the greatest example of the fervor against new developments in Carpinteria, the hotly contested Surfliner Inn has struggled for years to win over the city’s residents.
The proposed hotel has gone through countless redesigns, proposals, and adjustments since it was first kicked around City Hall in 2016. The center of the controversy lies in the fact that the 30-to-39-room hotel would be built on city-owned land, on two parking lot parcels on the corner of Linden Avenue and the railroad tracks.
Hearing that the hotel would be built on what is considered by city residents to be “community space” raised the eyebrows of many locals, who crowded public hearings and criticized the idea of public land being used for commercial purposes.
In November 2020, a group called the Coalition Against the Railroad Hotel, led by locals Judy Mulford and Marla Daily, penned a letter to the city council, worrying that the project had “grown in size” to the point of overtaking the corridor south of the railroad tracks and a portion of a community garden adjacent to the property.
“This is the people’s property,” Mulford said. The same letter alleges numerous “violations to Carpinteria’s General Plan,” citing that the land was acquired for public use and should remain that way.
Since then, the opposition to the project has grown stronger, despite several attempts by the developers to work with the city’s residents, reduce the size of the project, and even adjust plans to keep the community garden untouched.
The development team is headed by a group of local families — led by Andy Morris, Matt and Jim Taylor, Whit Hollis, and Jack and Jeff Theimer — who were handpicked because of their connection to the community and willingness to create something more than just a money grab. Each family has experience with hospitality and real estate, with the Theimer family being known for developing Storke Ranch in Goleta, Ennisbrook in Montecito, and Beaver Creek in Colorado.
The Surfliner, they contend, is a local venture and will be a step toward sustainable tourism, based around the community and walkable areas, as opposed to out-of-town developers dropping in and creating a big-city tourist trap.
Despite attempts to extend an olive branch to the opposition to no avail, the developers have won over city staff and leadership who say Carpinteria needs to adjust to growing trends up and down the coast.
“Things are changing quickly. You can’t say no to everything,” said Councilmember Gregg Carty, who was part of the 4-1 vote approving a lease agreement with the property developers in July 2021. The agreement allowing the property owners to use the property could net the city an estimated $621,000 in annual revenue.
During the same July meeting, Carty encouraged those opposed to the hotel to take a step back, referring to social media posts calling for the recall of city leaders over the issue. “I don’t appreciate that. I urge everybody to be respectful and take it from there,” he said.
Since then, more than 1,000 city residents signed a petition to put the matter to voters in this November’s election in the form of a ballot initiative: Measure T. The initiative was backed by the nonprofit YES! Save Our Downtown Open Space, and it places the future of the two city lots to a vote — if Measure T passes, the two lots will be zoned as open space/recreation, which could kill the future of the Surfliner.
Four members of the city council — including Mayor Wade Nomura and councilmembers Carty, Natalia Alarcon, and Roy Lee — have since singed their own “Argument Against Measure T,” in which they say the measure is a “misguided” attempt to sidestep the usual city review to stop the hotel. “The Surfliner, like any other project, is required to go through public review,” the letter reads, “but that will not happen if Measure T passes and your voice on the hotel project may not be heard.”
City residents will vote on Measure T in November. If it fails, the project returns to the regular city review process for approval.
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700 Linden Avenue
(Formerly Austin’s Hardware)
Much further along the development pipeline, and by contrast more widely accepted than the Surfliner Inn, is the 700 Linden Avenue project — a full city block of adaptive reuse retail and commercial space that will house a hodgepodge of eateries, coffee shops, markets, and a rooftop bar.
The project is fully approved through Carpinteria’s Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board, where it received near unanimous approval despite concerns over the size of the development and parking modifications granted due to the “public benefit” provided by the project.
The only member of either board to vote against the project was Planning Commission Chair Jane Benefield, who was concerned that the board was being too generous with its concessions because they were all in favor of the development. The project was initially required to provide 64 spaces, then 48. Eventually, the final approved plans included a 20-space parking lot.
“I cannot make those findings for a modification. I don’t see this as a public benefit,” Benefield said. “Retail is nice; retail is good, but it doesn’t measure up to being a public benefit. I like this project, but we don’t let other people off the hook with a parking modification.”
Other commissioners were excited about the prospect of a new look for the former Austin’s Hardware location, and they commended the development team — locals Terry Huggins and Matt LaBrie — for being open to changes and conditions placed on the project’s agreement.
Commissioner John Callender said the design goes beyond expectations by reenvisioning the buildings instead of tearing them down, and that the project “does a wonderful job figuring out how to change while preserving what we value.”
The latest renderings, designed by Santa Barbara–based DMHA Architecture, are far more modern than the rest of Linden Avenue — with long lines and a second floor that leans heavily on glass and wood panels — but embrace downtown Carpinteria’s “eclectic nature,” according to DMHA’s website.
“We stripped buildings to their bones and revealed their original hardware and architectural foundations,” the description reads. “We then enhanced these features with new architecture that echoes the shapes and geometrical designs of the original buildings.”
The space will be more of an “urban park,” intended to draw people into “the heart of Carpinteria,” with several local businesses reportedly already showing interest in leasing space, including owners of Santa Barbara hotspots Corazón Cocina, Milk & Honey, and The Blue Owl.
Nick Bobroff, principal planner with the City of Carpinteria, said the development is currently in the process of receiving permits, and the project’s developers are looking to hold off on beginning construction until after the annual Avocado Festival on October 1. The project could break ground by the end of this year.
The Palms Hotel Project
Right across the street from 700 Linden is the former site of the Palms Restaurant. Originally built as an 18-room hotel when it was constructed in 1912, property owners Bill and Todd Bennett are planning to bring back the hospitality aspect with a proposed 17-room hotel/bar/restaurant.
The project — which was designed by architect Kevin Moore, who serves as chair of Santa Barbara’s Architectural Board of Review — was scheduled for its first conceptual review with the Carpinteria Planning Commission earlier this month, but the hearing was postponed after escrow fell through with the Miramar Group. The project has been put on hold indefinitely while the property owners meet with prospective buyers interested in plans for the hotel.
Early designs showed a ground-level lobby and reception area with a bar and restaurant, along with six rooms facing the surrounding street. The upper level would include the additional 11 rooms.
For more information on the upcoming projects in Carpinteria, visit the “Hot Topics” section on carpinteriaca.gov.