CPA supports neighbors of 501 E. Micheltorena

August 12, 2018




916 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

August 12, 2018


Dear Mayor Murillo and councilmembers,


On behalf of Citizens Planning Association (CPA) we submit the following statement in support of the Appeal by the Upper Eastside Neighbors of the ABR approval of the 501 E. Micheltorena Street project. We watched the three ABR hearings on February 12, April 23 and the brief concluding "findings" hearing on May 21 and reviewed them carefully a second time on city-tv video.


At the outset, we want to say that we do not object to the conversion from a small duplex on the 7,500 sq. ft. lot to an AUD 4-plex. ABR's realm is design; CPA's objections to their 3-2 vote decision are three-fold:

  • neighborhood incompatibility of design;

  • size, bulk and scale; especially the height, amplified by being on top of the raised corner;

  • the failure to incorporate or even consider the across-the-street Lower Riviera Special Design District Guidelines as well as the proposed Bungalow Haven District.


In addition, there's the failure to follow some of the ABR's own Guidelines that is very concerning.


Simply: The hard-edged Modernist, Cubist design is not appropriate for this gentle residential neighborhood of mostly bungalows. Importantly, Cottage Hospital, a block up Micheltorena, showed how it's possible to create a large development and yet retain, in street frontage, experienced by the neighbors and passers-by, the "cottage feel" of the neighborhood. As noted earlier this is not about the AUD, it is about the neighborhood character.


Design: Context is so important! It is not a question of disliking modern architecture; in fact, this is an attractive design, but not in this location. There may be modernist designs "sprinkled about" the city, as the designers said, but they're not in this neighborhood. The nearest, said to be similar, was red-dotted on the applicants' map, closer to downtown, more than half a mile away.


We here are not a large urban area, a San Francisco or even the smaller Portland. Santa Barbara is different, a small city with many individual communities, neighborhoods. We all can sense and identify those neighborhoods. They are a lot of what makes Santa Barbara special. The delineating borders are fuzzy, but you know when you're there that you're not elsewhere. CPA thinks that the neighborhood "feel" choice of the residents should be respected.


Said at the conclusion of the February 12, ABR hearing, "The majority of the board feels the style needs to be more in keeping with the traditional elements of the neighborhood."


Somehow, that was forgotten by April 23. Instead, the conversation was about San Diego, by way of Chicago, architect Irving Gill, 1870-1936, often called  "the father of modern architecture".


Notable was the applicant's emphasis that compatibility was achieved by the fact that Mr. Gill's work was roughly contemporaneous with the building of the Santa Barbara bungalows. Contemporaneity is not equivalent to compatibility. What matters is the character of this specific neighborhood and the requirements of the ABR guidelines: Specifically, ABR Goal, #E: "to ensure appropriate building massing (including size, mass, bulk, height and scale) in relation to its site location and the surrounding neighborhood." (emphasis added.)


In those ABR Guidelines, there is also a specific reference to AUD projects: "The characteristics of each project site and its context and surroundings must be evaluated to ensure proposed development fits into a neighborhood. ... The ABR shall make deliberative findings and fully explain how all Project Compatibility Criteria have been evaluated."  (Page 13.)


Instead, at the 3rd and final review hearing, Chair Gradin read the compatibility criteria and said that the proposal fit them all; there were no explanations, let alone indications of deliberations. We think this was a failure of the process and in itself calls for upholding the appeal. 


It's true that this particular corner is not in the present design district. However, on the City's webpage for the Lower Riviera Special Design District Guidelines, it's clearly stated, "The guidelines, adopted in 2006, will serve to assist property owners, architects, contractors, and commissions and design review boards to design projects that will be appropriate, compatible, and beneficial to the Special Design District, and to assist the City in reviewing applications for new projects and alterations to structures within, and in close proximity to, the proposed Historic District." What, for use as a reference, could be in closer proximity than across the street!


On the bases of size, bulk, scale, especially because of the incompatibility with the neighborhood, the failure to analyze and explain how it met the compatibility criteria, the failure to respect the area Guidelines, we urge you to uphold the 501 E. Micheltorena Street neighbors' appeal.


Respectfully submitted,

Mary Ellen Brooks,

Betsy R. Cramer

Co-presidents, Citizens Planning Association


ABR Guidelines:

Lower Riviera Special Design District Guidelines:

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