Developer Rick Caruso is hoping to get a fast start on building the new Miramar Hotel in Montecito, with construction slated to begin in January and a grand opening already penciled in for 2011, according to a written statement from the developer.
There are only two things standing in the way of this ambitious plan. One is the possibility of an appeal to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which must be filed by Oct. 20. The second is the global credit crunch, which Caruso said would complicate – but not derail – his long-awaited project.
Redevelopment of the derelict oceanfront project got a big push forward on Oct. 8 when the Montecito Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve the Los Angeles developer’s design, which had run a gauntlet of vocal skirmishes from opponents including actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
“It has been a long road, but the community has been behind us all the way, and we look forward to getting started soon,” said Caruso, chief executive officer of Caruso Affiliated, in a statement. “We are anxious to create a great hotel that will make the community proud.”
After buying the hotel 18 months ago to create a luxurious resort on the 16-acre site at 1555 S. Jameson Lane, Caruso appeared to have been stalemated in mid-July when the commission couldn’t forge a consensus and opponents complained the project was too large. At one point in August, he asked the commission to reject his plan so he could sell the property.
But Caruso was locked into the project and the county clearly was in need of a solution for the one-time weekend getaway for movie stars and wannabees. So, the developer kicked it down just a notch and the planning commission gave the green light.
Caruso’s final design includes a 192-room luxury hotel, with three restaurants, a spa, beach club, ballroom facilities, and a beachfront boardwalk along Miramar Beach. Initially, he had proposed 204 rooms, a taller main building than finally proposed and lighted tennis courts. He also expanded the buffer separating the project from South Jameson Lane.
Santa Barbara County officials said if no appeal is filed, three months would have to pass before construction could begin on the project if the developer meets some 90 conditions imposed by the Montecito commission. One of those conditions includes waiting three months to see if anyone will acquire and move several cottages, considered to be historic, on the hotel property.
Caruso wants to raze the old Miramar, which now consists mainly of the dilapidated cottages empty for nearly a decade, and replace it with a five-star resort.
The developer said he hoped he could resolve remaining differences with the plan’s opponents, who are concerned about drainage and other issues, including water supply, sewage, construction noise, traffic and building design.
Montecito Planning Commission member Jack Overall cast the lone vote against the plan. During the Oct. 8 hearing, Overall said he was concerned about events at the Miramar that could draw some 500 people and cause severe traffic congestion.
Caruso Affiliated officials said the developer spends about $1 million a month on the Miramar for such expenses as security and maintenance, taxes, legal costs and planners. Caruso will pay some $300 million for the project along with lenders ready to help – as long as the Wall Street crunch doesn’t become a deep freeze.
Caruso Affiliated is known for developing high-quality outdoor retail properties such as The Lakes at Thousand Oaks, The Commons at Calabasas, The Grove in West Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand in Glendale.