Franceschi plan draws split crowd

If the Franceschi Park Master Plan fails to deliver planned improvements to the park, it certainly won’t be from a lack of community input. More than 100 people filled the Santa Barbara City Council chambers Tuesday night to give their comments about the plan, which has been in the works since 1998.

“The park is really a great horticultural treasure,” said Mayor Marty Blum, who approved the plan in a unanimous vote. “I hope I live long enough to see it in all its glory.”

The most debated element was the Pearl Chase Society‘s proposal to start a $250,000 endowment for the rehabilitation of Franceschi House, with an eventual plan to raise $2.1 million for the building that would then be used as a museum/library, a staff residence and for small weddings and events. While the social functions would be limited to one per weekend and only 30 guests, that seemed to be an area of great concern to some.

The granddaughter of the park’s benefactor, Dina Franceschi Fenzi, said, “The house must be a place for the study of botany, not weddings … The El Encanto is right down the road.”

“The uses outlined seem to go against the vision of the man for whom this park is named,” said Ann Beth, vice president of the Riviera Association. “He was more concerned about growing a zucchini than serving one as crudites.”

Of the 41 people who spoke out, 21 were opposed and 20 in favor of the master plan, according to Mayor Blum’s tally.

Ultimately, the council agreed with neighbors like Wendy Hawksworth, who spoke in support of the master plan. “It’s not going to disrupt the character of the park … really, its going to enhance the character of the park.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on December 18, 2003.

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