At a special joint meeting on Monday night of Carpinteria’s City Council, Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board, several concerns were voiced from community and board members about the proposed luxury AutoCamp RV park – planned for 6555 Carpinteria Ave. – regarding the RV park’s impact on the surrounding community, the reflectivity of the trailers and severe concerns about the amount of proposed parking available.

The March 29 meeting was set to conceptually review the proposed Airstream lodging development on a 2.48-acre property on the Carpinteria Bluffs at the easternmost end of Carpinteria Avenue. The site is a privately-owned property that is currently vacant. The proposal comes from John King of King Ventures and the Rincon Bluffs Group, LLC and AutoCamp. AutoCamp has similar luxury RV parks currently operating in California at Yosemite, Russian River and Joshua Tree.

The proposed development currently plans for 24 Airstream trailer units, two larger ADA compliant trailers, a 2,200-square-foot clubhouse, a 550-square-foot maintenance building and a parking lot with 28 spaces, according to conceptual review documents submitted for the meeting.

The clubhouse itself would house a snack bar, gift shop and “gathering space” for guests. New gutters, curb and a sidewalk would also be put into place along Carpinteria Avenue to connect to the Rincon Bluffs Preserve. According to the proposal, the majority of new plants planted on the property will be native species. 

Each of the luxury trailers are designed to sleep four and contain a queen bed and a fold-out sofa bed. 

According to a presentation during the meeting, city staff identified potential problems with the proposal, including how the development will affect public views, as well as problems with the trailers themselves.

For example, the “extensive use of metallic surfaces” is prohibited in the Bluffs Community Design Element Implementation Policy #74, as discussed during the meeting. The development must also have just enough landscaping to fit in with the bluffs – ”not too much” landscaping. 

Per the presentation, the proposal will need modifications to be accepted under city guidelines. 

“I can see some definitely positive things about this proposal,” John Callender of the Planning Commission said during the meeting. “I like it being smaller scale and smaller in terms of its impact than built-out structures or a built-out resort would be. I do think that, as some others have said, that having it be an element that highlights the natural characteristics of the site ... could be consistent with the vision of Carpinteria that a lot of Carpinterians share.”

“With that said, there are a number of things about the project that I have pretty deep concerns about. I think that if it does go forward, those would have to be addressed in a meaningful way,” he continued.

Similarly, Jane Benefield, Planning Commission vice chair, stressed that the project must be suitable for Carpinteria residents.

“The only thing we gain from this, I believe, is traffic, noise, glare and disruption of a pristine area,” Benefield said.

Laurel Fisher Perez, from Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services, and Bernie Corea, AutoCamp’s senior land acquisition manager, spoke during the meeting about the proposed development. The two fielded questions from the council, the planning commission and the architectural review board about how the development would affect the community.

“The proposed AutoCamp Carpinteria project is especially exciting for us, as the AutoCamp concept was founded in Santa Barbara back in 2013. We found that vacationers enjoy the ability to have a fully curated camping experience without the associated hassles of purchasing and setting up their equipment,” Corea said. (AutoCamp Santa Barbara, which was located on De La Vina Street, is now permanently closed according to Google Business and Yelp.)

So far, AutoCamp has met and discussed the project with the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, the Carpinteria Valley Association and the Carpinteria New Business Advisory Committee, among others, Fisher Perez said.

“We’ll continue our outreach and meetings to collect important information and input,” Fisher Perez said. “It helps address a growing demand for camping and outdoor recreation. We’ve all been through a year that couldn’t have been described ... our tremendous respect and desire for outdoor experiences has only become more important to us.” 

Corea said the most concerning feedback they received from the community involved the reflectivity of the trailers.  

“Modern Airstreams are made out of a raw brushed aluminum that has a clear coat on top of it. It’s very different from the chrome looking vehicles of the ‘50s,” Corea said. “They’re really not much more reflective than what a light-colored vehicle like a car would be, but what the brushed finish does is that it helps reflect the adjacent colors of the landscaping, not the bright silver of these previous chrome-finished versions.” 

He explained that the per-night cost of trailers will start at the low-to-mid $200s, and will adjust with demand. The development will have 10 to 15 fulltime employees, with approximately five employees on the property per shift.

Council members expressed concern about the limited parking proposed in the development. Corea said each site would be given one parking spot. Corea said the development is also exploring additional parking spaces. 

Several Carpinterians called in or wrote into the record to protest the proposed development. 

Resident Jim Taylor called developing the spot “tragic.”  

“What town in its right mind would allow a trailer park in literally the most prominent location on their (coastline), overlooking the magnificent Rincon Bluffs preserve?” he said. 

Mike Wondolowski, president of the Carpinteria Valley Association, said there are “multiple unacceptable aspects of this proposal,” noting “a trailer park is entirely inappropriate for this location.”  

“I ask each of you to consider this question: If cabins were proposed here with earth tone or natural wood exterior, would you recommend they change the material to be shiny metal? If not, then this proposal is fundamentally inappropriate. Looking at this proposal, it can’t honestly be described as anything other than a high-density trailer park,” Wondolowski said.

Joyce Donaldson from the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce said the chamber reviewed the project at its recent meeting, and found the concept “consistent with the chamber’s policy platform.” 

“We are advocates for preservation of open space. Of the many projects that have been proposed for this site over the years, this project appears to create the least amount of impact. Given these considerations, we believe AutoCamp is the best possible use of the space,” Donaldson said. 

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