At the Aug. 5 meeting of the Planning Commission, commissioners approved all of the evening’s applications, however, they did so with fraught pessimism in the first—an extensive beachfront remodel—and easy optimism in the last—acquisition of 21.2 acres of the Bluffs for a public park.
The Sinclair family beach house, 4921 Sandyland Road, is a legal nonconforming residence consisting of two condominiums in the flood hazard zone. The Sinclairs propose an extensive interior and exterior remodel with no change to the land use footprint, while improving the functionality, privacy and aesthetic of the units.
The home is vulnerable to sea level rise and is in an area that could be included in a managed retreat program when the city’s General Plan is approved with recommendations from the Sea Level Rise and Vulnerability Report. Commissioners raised legal and ethical questions around approving investments in homes in an area that studies predict will be highly impacted by flooding in the near future, potentially making the homes uninhabitable.
“What’s the city’s liability when we approve these plans (knowing the vulnerability to sea level rise)?” asked Commissioner Jane Benefield. Legal counsel commented that at this time, based on the current policies and General Plan, there is a legal grey area. Redevelopment below 50 percent of a property’s value is the common threshold before requiring compliance with FEMA and the city floodplain regulations. The proposed Sinclair renovation is estimated at 36 percent.
“Sea level rise is a concern,” stated Commissioner John Callender as he cast the singular dissenting vote. “It’s disappointing to me that the city continues not to include that information in the staff analysis… The current version of the General Plan—not updated to include the Sea Level Rise and Vulnerability Report—is broken.
“I understand that the city is reluctant to place itself in legal jeopardy by telling property owners, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ based on information that is not reflected in our current policies,” continued Callender, “But we on the planning commission are not city staff. We do not represent city staff. We also don’t represent the applicant, necessarily. We’re here to represent the interest of the applicant and the larger community that the applicant is a part of.
“Given that the policy apparatus that we have is broken, to my mind, approving this project significantly extends the life of that property at that location and it significantly degrades the city’s ability to pursue managed retreat as a response to sea level rise. By approving this project … we are knowingly deciding that we are going to place the community at greater risk of flooding. A short-term choice that forces worse options on the people who come after us,” stated Callender.
Sustaining their approval of the project, the four other commissioners agreed that Callender had pointed out a meaningful problem, with Benefield commenting, “I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. I believe it’s incumbent upon either getting this adopted or some policy discussion that we come to some agreement on how to deal with this. Soon.” But Benefield was clear, “The remodel is great. My concern… high tide, sea level rise… We are not acting on that, we are acting on your request to remodel.”
“Residents have to live there, and they can’t make improvements on their home and investment? That’s a taking,” reasoned Commissioner John Moyer. “It’s an improvement. It opens up some justifiable concerns, but I’ll side on the value of human nature and support this project.”
Rincon Bluffs, open space forever
In an uncontentious and unanimous vote, commissioners approved the city’s acquisition of approximately 21.2 acres of land within Bluffs 3 planning area for public park, trail and open space purposes as consistent with the city’s General Plan/Coastal Plan. The property is now owned by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County, which partnered with Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, the city of Carpinteria, the county of Santa Barbara and 1,300 community members to raise the $7.9 million to purchase and preserve the undeveloped land in 2017.
With funds from three governmental grants, the city plans to purchase the property from the Land Trust for long-term stewardship. The uses of the property will be restricted by a conservation easement, ensuring that the Bluffs will be a permanent open space. City staff stated that there were plans for a small parking area, restrooms and upgrades to the Carpinteria Coastal Vista Trail, as well as proposals to take out invasive plants and to restore the natural habitat that had been previously scraped bare.
Speaking on behalf of the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, Arturo Tello said, “I’m here to celebrate and thank the Planning Commission for acquiring the bike path making it possible to connect Bluffs 1 and Bluffs 2… It’s a wonderful hiking area, you’ll find a lot of wildlife, the biggest lizards you’ve ever seen, a lot of rabbits … fabulous plants in the spring. … I’m grateful to the Land Trust for having done this.”
New construction at Concha Loma and Linden condominiums project
The Planning Commission also unanimously approved the construction of a new single-story residence at 650 Concha Loma Drive on a potentially significant archeological site. The property owners, the Woods, had originally presented a two-story design to the Architectural Review Board, however, amidst serious concerns from neighbors regarding height and privacy, the owners had significantly redesigned the property as a single-story. No neighbors appeared at the meeting to voice concern.
Additionally, commissioners approved plans to remodel and change an existing single-family dwelling and detached garage/second unit at 1112 Linden Avenue into a four-unit condominium development with eight parking spaces. Last year, the Planning Commission had approved an application for renovations of this property, owned by Phari LLC, but City Council denied approval, leading the applicant to sue the city, ultimately reaching a settlement.
The current proposal is less dense than the original and has one less unit. Commissioners Callender and Moyer welcomed the modest increase in housing units for the area, while Benefield expressed safety concerns, “It’s trying to make something fit that just doesn’t fit. This lot has a dangerous entrance and exit. It’s a route to school. It has too much traffic and there’s no parking on that street.” Nevertheless, the project was approved 4-1, with Benefield dissenting.