Santa Barbara City Council denied property goliath Edward St. George’s appeal to build a hotel on Montecito Street Tuesday night; still the developer has reason to stay hopeful.
A 4-3 vote of the council gave St. George one month to plan to downsize his hotel and replace the four rental apartment units which currently reside on 302 and 308 West Montecito Street. This means the saga of St. George versus local government continues.
Who exactly is Edward St. George? He’s not your typical fat cat property owner in a suit, that’s for sure. He’d rather don t-shirts and baseball cap. If you ask one of the 20-so Santa Barbarians who supported him at City Hall, you might think he lives up to his name as a saint.
The former carpenter, who has built his way up to power, has developed 180 units across the coast with another 160 in development.
“Ed’s a visionary,” said Adam Pirozzi, on escrow across the street from where the hotel may stand. “[He has] consistently provided a need before anyone else saw it.”
The proposed hotel has been in the works for over three years, and was trudging through the necessary bureaucratic hoops. Until August 22nd when the Santa Barbara Planning Commission denied it with a 5-1 vote on the grounds of “sound community planning” and “neighborhood compatibility.”
In layman's terms, they wanted housing built there, which St. George claims the area is unfit for. The current apartment units are within 250 feet of the 101 Freeway, posing potential air hazards, and the area is a frequent hub for the homeless and crime.
For these reasons, St. George only houses “guys who could really take care of themselves,” reports Joshua Molina for Noozhawk. Among them, a Santa Barbara City College football coach who agreed with his sentiments in front of City Council Tuesday.
City Council was split. Councilmembers Eric Freidman, Oscar Gutierrez, and Kristen Sneddon sided with the commision and opposed giving St. George time to reconfigure his plan. Jason Dominguez, Mayor Cathy Murillo, Meagan Harmon, and Randy Rowse voted to give him a month to rework his plan into something smaller, and build four apartment units to offset the ones lost to the potential hotel.
St. George wasn’t present for the vote. He stormed out with his wife and son seemingly assuming the council would not side with him. The meeting ran four hours, 22 minutes.
Pirozzi and 21 other community members spent Tuesday night at city hall advocating for the hotel. They claimed it would reinvigorate an aging part of the city, provide needed jobs to it, and give 24/7 eyes on the streets in the neighborhood.
“I spent more time on that property than anyone,” said a generational Santa Barbarian to City Council. His parents owned a restaurant on Montecito Street. “It was a dump when [St. George] got it, and it’s a dump now. It’s a great project, my grandparents would love it, I love it, you will not regret [approving it]”
On the other side, community activist Anne Marie Gott gave the council an enthusiastic (so enthusiastic that Mayor Cathy Murillo had to remind her to watch her language) powerpoint presentation defending the Planning Commission's decision. She urged the council to look at luxurious room sizes, averaging 488 square feet to the nation’s 325 average, and changes to St. George’s blueprints which may have flown under the radar of some.
Seven community members, including Gott and Professor Arthur Sylvester of the Coast Geological Society spoke out in detest of the new hotel. Sylvester worried the hotel may be built on top of the Mesa Fault, and excavation underneath the site could affect the groundwater table, and maybe kill the Geological Society’s trees.
“The mesa fault’s location is uncertain,” said Sylvester. “It is considered an active fault and the cause of the 1925 earthquake.”
The excavation would be to build a parking lift system for 33 spaces, as the plans for the hotel were shown to a packed house via projector at City Hall. 11 additional spaces would be available on the surface.
Other concerns to the project included increased traffic near SBCC and a modern-style architecture might disrupt the traditional spanish buildings which surround it.
Is change coming to the westside? The question remains until the council reviews a new proposal from St. George.
Correction: The Planning Commission voted 5-1, denying St. George’s project, not 6-1 as previously stated.
Articles I co-wrote with Barry Punzal, Noozhawk sports editor.