Mark your calendars for April 30, 2018, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso told the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors on Tuesday: That’s going to be the grand-opening party for Montecito’s Miramar Hotel. And shortly after Caruso extended that invite, the supervisors — following some finagling — granted Caruso unanimous approval of his longtime plan to resurrect the storied beachside hotel, ending years of fits and starts over the property.
Caruso — the third developer in 15 years to pitch Miramar plans — had two previous iterations okayed in 2008 and 2011, and he prevailed again on Tuesday with his scaled down 170-room, 436-parking-spot proposal. The Montecito Planning Commission, in the second of two hours-long hearings, approved his third pitch in January but levied stricter parking-related conditions on event sizes and beach club memberships than Caruso could stomach, prompting him to appeal that decision to the supervisors.
But those stipulations were overturned by the board — spearheaded by 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal — with the revival of a stipulation first brought up at one of those commission meetings. Under the deal brokered Tuesday between county staff, the board, and Caruso’s camp, Caruso will get to enroll 200 beach club members from the start (not the 100 limit used by the Montecito Planning Commission) and can increase that number to 300 within two or three years. But if the commission finds that the jump in membership will require more parking spots, Caruso will have to whip up 50 off-site parking spots or have some other “long-term” answer.
That suggestion had been quashed at a previous meeting by questions of enforcement and concerns over how a similar situation has played out at El Encanto Hotel. Rachel Van Mullem, a lawyer in the County Counsel’s office, said she felt more “comfortable” with this agreement given the requirement that Caruso have other options in place. Tuesday’s approval also reaffirmed Caruso’s desire for a 400-person cap on hotel events, up from the 350-person cap imposed by the Montecito Planning Commission.
Hotel neighbors Richard and Dana Pachulski, who had filed their appeal to the January approval ahead of Caruso's, withdrew their challenge last week. Family spokesperson Andrew Rice said that following the Pachulski’s appeal — which charged that the 436 parking spots would eat up residents’ street parking — “Caruso Affiliated made significant changes to the proposed project that alleviate the impacts the Pachulskis were most concerned about.”
Land-use planner Chris Price, also representing the Pachulskis, said the terms of the deal between the two parties were confidential. (The Pachulskis' attorney and known Caruso foe, Pasadena-based Robert Silverstein, had spent some time leading up to Tuesday’s hearing hashing out the hearing date with Caruso’s team and county staff, maintaining that he couldn’t attend an April 14 meeting due to his involvement in a previously scheduled trial.)
Strong support for a new version of the hotel trumped mild opposition among Montecito residents, with the majority of the dozen-plus who spoke noting the development’s benefits. That sentiment was echoed up on the dais by supervisors Carbajal and Steve Lavagnino. “There isn’t a much better project for the county than when a high-end resort hotel is constructed,” Lavagnino said, noting the $2 million in property tax revenue and $1.5 million in bed tax revenue the hotel is projected to bring in every year.
Lavagnino said he didn’t see the need for the off-site parking condition, but Carbajal, calling the hotel’s parking plan “the elephant in the room,” said that stipulation “would make all the difference in my eyes.” After the deal was hatched, Carbajal turned to his go-to phrase to describe the project. “I know my colleagues hate it when I say this,” he said, to laughs, “but today truly, truly is a win-win.”
Caruso, who along with his team broke into applause once the votes were in, addressed at the outset of the hearing his intentions for the property. “Rumors and speculation have flown around that I’m going to sell the project or that I’ll walk away,” he said, addressing chatter that a green-lighted project could prove to be an attractive option for buyers. But grading on the land is slated for February and that opening soiree for a few years out, Caruso said. The financing, estimated at $200 million, is also on track, Caruso’s right-hand man Matt Middlebrook added. “It’s the best plan yet,” Caruso said. “We will build a great hotel that you will be proud of.”