Passions run high as controversial condos approved by city

More than 150 people filled City Hall Tuesday night, where the Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted to approve a controversial mixed-use condominium project near De la Vina and Calle Laureles Streets, rejecting an appeal by the neighbors.

Architectural firm DesignArc had proposed renovating an office building for itself, along with five condominiums. The council approved the project at 29 W. Calle Laureles, but with the addition of a rental unit designated for employees, more parking and the promotion of alternative transportation.

Passions ran high at the hearing, with 21 people speaking in favor of the project (in addition to members of the Planning Commission who gave it a unanimous approval) and 15 people against. In a neighborhood that has recently shouldered the additional burden of Trader Joe’s where a less robust business had been, parking and traffic were the issues of most concern.

“We are very glad to be your neighborhood drug store … we are very afraid to become your local parking lot,” said Bob Dooley, manager of Long’s Drug Store, one of the appellants.

“If you believe this is going to have no effect on our neighborhood — baloney,” said neighbor Kelly Griffin, quoting television’s Judge Judy.

Arguing that the project was the least possible weekday parking demand that could be on that site, DesignArc Principal Michael Holliday said, “The only parking and traffic threshold that this project exceeds is perception.”

Council members expressed concern about some of the misleading information that had been circulated in the neighborhood. “This flyer looks like we’re going to build Wilshire Boulevard along De la Vina,” said Councilman Das Williams.

“I don’t think that this project should be the scapegoat for all of the frustration,” said Councilwoman Helene Schneider.

The controversy over the project should have at least one positive impact on the neighborhood. Councilman Roger Horton made a direct request of the transportation department to improve the parking and traffic situation. “It seems to me that that’s our responsibility,” he said.

“I think it was actually a win-win for ourselves, trying to provide infill housing and for the neighborhood. I think we really spurred on action from city to solve problems that are far beyond our project,” said Bruce Bartlett, a founding partner of DesignArc.

The office construction will begin in two months, with the condos shortly afterward. DesignArc hopes to move in by the end of the year, said Bartlett. “It wasn’t quite the welcome wagon we were expecting, but we plan on being good neighbors.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on May 13, 2004.