City’s Architectural Board of Review reviews plan for new police station
In a last-minute special meeting of the city’s Architectural Board of Review, members reviewed the proposed plan for the new Santa Barbara Police Department headquarters on Friday.
The building, proposed to replace the existing 1.61-acre Cota Commuter parking lot at Santa Barbara and Cota streets, would be a three-story, approximately 53-foot high, 65,000 square foot structure, along with a 37.5 foot high, 86,000 square foot parking structure with 244 parking spaces.
The hearing on Friday didn’t require an appealable decision; rather, the applicant requested ABR approval on its compliance with the compatibility analysis so that the project can go to the Planning Commission for discretionary approval.
While a few members pointed out some concerns, the board voted 4-2 that the project complies with the city charter, passes the compatibility analysis, is an appropriate size, preserves local landmarks and historic resources, has enough open space and doesn’t impact public views.
Board Chair Kevin Moore was one of the dissenting votes, and his biggest concern was the parking garage, which spans the entire Cota Street side of the block. Board member Lauren Anderson voted no as well.
“I understand that wording about parking garages that says that if there’s no other option, we can orient the parking garage so that it’s perpendicular to the street, but you’ve not represented any clear case through all of your studies that this is the only way to do this parking garage such that it can’t be fully screened by the building, so that’s my first hangup,” Chair Moore said. “Secondly … This is the downtown core where people are walking constantly past this site and to have lengths of blocks, very nearly two-thirds of the block, as parking garage … It’s dead frontage. That’s not contributing to our city and the desirable qualities we want to promote. Those are the ones I’m struggling with the most and I think they’re pretty important.”
He added that he believes this early on in the process that the project planners have the flexibility to “lay it out in such a way that is good for the surrounding community.” If not, though, he said that part of Cota Street “is going to be essentially devoid of activity and not contributing to our urban environment.”
Board member Richard Six had concerns with the building’s entrance, and said he wished it was more inviting and on the corner of Cota and Santa Barbara streets instead of just on Santa Barbara Street. However, he said for the record that the board understands there needs to be a balance between public desires/aesthetics and functional requirements of a police station.
Mr. Six added that the applicant should further study how to find more inviting treatment to the garage.
Members deemed the height acceptable, and were pleased with the project’s garage elevation and staff’s softening of the architecture, as was a request from the last ABR review of the police station.
The fact that the special meeting was held for the project was the reason for the resignation of Board member David Watkins last week. He said he didn’t find it fair that the firm designing this project was able to request a meeting and get it granted when a number of other firms in town don’t get the same opportunity.
He added that he supports the project itself, but couldn’t sit with the decision to allow an expedited process for one firm and not every other firm planning a city project.