CPA Voices Concerns about 711 N. Milpas

March 24, 2019

March 24, 2019


            RE: Appeals of the 11/19/2018 decision of the ABR re: 711 N. Milpas Street, filed             11/20/2018 and that filed 11/29/2019. We request a denial of the Appeal of             11/20 and upholding that of 11/29, asking for a full de novo hearing.                                               

Dear Mayor Murillo and members of the City Council:


Citizens Planning Association (“CPA”), Santa Barbara’s preeminent county-wide land use organization since 1960, watches closely proposals in the County and in the various cities, with a mission that “advocates for the best standards of design… in order to maintain sustainable communities and protect the (Santa Barbara) heritage.”


We have followed the nearly block-long large development, 4-stories plus roof usage, proposed for 711 N. Milpas Street (“711”), stretching from Ortega nearly to de la Guerra, a special, idiosyncratic neighborhood of small local businesses and one- or two-story residences, seen from the Riviera above, and adjacent to the historic Santa Barbara Junior High School.


As with the recent 501 E. Micheltorena Street proposal, we recognize Santa Barbara’s need for rental housing. Also, as there, we believe the neighborhood deserves consideration and respect. And also, as for that Appeal, our opinion is not based on a dislike of the design; however, we question the compatibility, the appropriateness of the mass, bulk, and scale to this upper Milpas neighborhood.


1. DENY THE APPEAL OF NOVEMBER 20, 2018 ­: We believe that the ABR majority acted within its jurisdiction and that they reasonably found that what they were presented on 11/19 was not in substantial conformity with the earlier, 6/20/2016 Project Design Approval (“PDA”).


            (a) The PDA incorporated modifications that, as noted in the staff report had             expired after two years per the zoning code, Ch 28, then in effect. The Council             Staff Report (CAR) gives various explanations,             excuses, yet those “mods” were at             the time granted re parking and front setback integral to the PDA; their             expiration would mean that the PDA also expired and that the subsequent            


            Substantial Conformance determination of May 2018 was invalid. Rules are rules,             or are they not? There is no grace period listed.


            Also: the modification concerning parking was no longer needed because of             the reduction of the commercial component. (And that was due to the belated,             subsequent to the PDA, acknowledgement of the flood plain location requiring a             raise of 5’ of the pad.) But we don’t know what commercial entity/ies will be             there; what if it is to be a business that will have high traffic generation, such as,             for instance, an often-requested Milpas coffee shop? 


            (b) Among the details specifically mentioned by the ABR on 11/19/18 and noted             in the CAR were the “mechanical units as proposed on the balconies at all levels             and conditions….” These are substantial and would not be in conformance             with             the PDA, and as the ABR majority said, “inappropriate as proposed.” In addition,             there were specified details requested by the ABR that had “not been adequately             met or resolved.”


            (c) There is no requirement that the ABR may not make comments on design and             neighborhood compatibility. The comments by the ABR professionals were not             “impermissible personal opinions”, as claimed by RRM. ABR Guidelines s. 3.2.6,             p 54, cited in the CAR, states that “comments … should only address (substantial                         conformance) to the design that received the PDA.” There is an important             difference between “shall”, with its meaning of requiring obeying certain rules,             laws, and “should”, with its softer meaning of advising, a suggestion, permission.


            Had the ABR Guidelines wanted the requirement of “shall” that word would             have been used. It was not. In our opinion, Assistant City Attorney Ostrenger was             incorrect in her reminder to the effect that substantial changes needed were not             allowed to be made by the ABR members at that stage in the review process.             (CAR p. 4.) Hers was a misinterpretation of “should” and the ABR board             members acted and spoke correctly.


            The Appeal letter of 11/20/18 is incorrect: The ABR did act within its jurisdiction,             citing relevant reasons for a denial of final approval at that hearing of 11/19.18.             The decision was not “impermissible personal opinions.” Extension deadline             missed, ABR opposition to mechanical units on balconies, important design             details requested but not provided, all would be substantial for any project. We             request that the Council deny the RRM Appeal. 





(a) Over the course of this proceeding, from February 1, 2016, an agendized comments only, Conceptual Review, through the June 20 2016 granting of a PDA on condition of having the applicant return for “in Progress” study, the ABR requested the applicant to return/study a reduction in the apparent size, bulk, scale, and to make the project more compatible with the neighborhood by means of architectural style and details. This is ABR’s purview, design and compatibility, not zoning, and since it was not done, there needs to be a new hearing.


(b) East Ortega Street is interrupted by the SB Junior High School and its popular playing fields, with the Milpas-adjacent section being a main entrance/egress for flocks of students, bicycling to and from school on the Milpas bike lane in front of 711. Even as is, it is dangerous, as Santa Barbara knows too well. Adding vehicles backing out on Ortega Street with a loading zone on Milpas for 711 will add to that danger. These are very important safety considerations which need to be dealt with and, apparently, they were not.


(c) Due process concerns: Despite the statement in the CAR, probably taken from the Minutes of the meeting, there was no notice given on June 20, 2016 that the PDA, granted, with conditions, on the 4th Motion, after 5 straw votes, could be appealed. Neighbors were present and, nearly two years ago in a complicated process, did not know and were not told that they had the right to appeal and had 10 days in which to do it. (See; ABR video of the 6/20 /2016 meeting, Item 3, from 3:09:48 to 3:10:40. There’s a lot of good fellowship laughter among ABR members, applicants, staff, but no mention of the possibility of an appeal by the public.) 


We wonder at the statement in the Minutes, “The ten-day appeal period was announced.” Certainly not so at the end of Item #3; if it was done at the end of the meeting, all concerned residents would have left, unadvised of their rights. They’ve said consistently, long before this Appeal, that had they known they would have appealed. (per personal communications.)


The ABR jurisdiction is among the most complicated of the city’s volunteer boards and commissions, demanding participants who are skilled in design, with a nearly 90-page-long set of Guidelines to know and follow. Importantly, the work of this board often directly impacts neighborhoods and the lives of Santa Barbarans. That always needs to be kept in mind, especially for projects such as this which are potentially area- and neighborhood-changing, where other property owners are watching interestedly for precedent setters. (The developer of the proposed hotel at 418 N. Milpas acknowledged the proposal for 711 N. Milpas.)


CPA maintains that the City Council DOES have jurisdiction to consider both letters of Appeal, plus supporting information. The hearing on March 26 will be a quasi-judicial procedure where “(a)ny relevant evidence may be considered if it is the sort of evidence upon which responsible persons rely in the conduct of serious affairs.” We maintain that the arguments presented in the November 29 letter of appeal and its reservation for additional arguments and facts are in that category and are justiciable by the Council.


It was error, we believe, shocking error, that the Haley-Milpas Design Guidelines were not required for consideration at the 11/19/2018 hearing and at prior hearings. Geographically, 711 N. Milpas is in the buffer zone of those Guidelines, starting on the other side of Ortega Street, but of similar character to the rest of the area. The Design Guidelines purposes: “1. To provide a more human-scaled and pedestrian environment. 2. To give more attention to details … and 3. to encourage compatible mixed use development to accommodate the mix of uses already existing in the area.”  (Italics added) Had these Guidelines been followed, there would be a different design than what is proposed.


We ask that you deny the November 20 Appeal and support the request in the November 29 Appeal for a complete de novo hearing on 711 N. Milpas Street.




Mary Ellen Brooks and Betsy R. Cramer,

Co-presidents of Citizens Planning Association



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