San Ysidro Roundabout at MPC

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   May 28, 2020
A rendering of the roundabout proposed for San Ysidro Road at North Jameson Lane. The Montecito Planning Commission discussed the merits and detriments of the project at an 11-hour meeting last week.

After nearly 12 hours of discussing the proposed roundabout at San Ysidro Road last Wednesday, the Montecito Planning Commission agreed to continue their hearing on the project until June 10, in order to give County staff time to formulate additional conditions to the project.

In what Commissioner Susan Keller called Montecito’s biggest land use and traffic project in many, many years – possibly ever – the proposed roundabout has garnered much community attention, with over 70 members of the public submitting letters on the project, the majority of whom voiced concerns over aesthetics, neighborhood compatibility, pedestrian and bicycle safety, impacts to the neighboring homes, traffic speeds, and more. The project has also been a hot topic on the neighborhood social media site, Nextdoor, where neighbors have discussed both pros and cons of the proposal. Several residents support the project, saying that a roundabout would help clear up a historically problematic intersection, which the County has long maintained performs at an “F” level during the morning and afternoon high volume hours.

The project has been in the works for the last several years as part of a trio of parallel projects to improve local traffic in conjunction with the impending widening of Highway 101. It includes replacing the current clunky intersection, which includes both an entrance and exit to Highway 101 at San Ysidro and a four-way stop at San Ysidro and North Jameson Lane, with a single lane roundabout, which will include pedestrian access on every leg of the intersection, including crosswalks that connect with paved walkways through the medians or refuge areas. According to County planners, the roundabout gives enough space for bicycles to traverse the lane, or bicyclists can get off their bikes and walk in the pedestrian/sidewalk areas, which have been expanded from six feet in previous plans, to eight feet, and have curb cuts for bicyclists to access the sidewalk from the traffic lane.

Public Works director Chris Sneddon said the project has been designed to be compatible with the neighborhood, with tree plantings densified near both the northwest and northeast side of the roundabout, making clear the transition from freeway to neighborhood. The rest of the landscape plan includes drought tolerant landscaping and native trees – Monterey Cypress, Coast Live Oaks, and cherry trees – providing a buffer between the roundabout and the adjacent Hedgerow neighborhood. Signage is limited to coastal access and safety signs, and lighting will be minimized with current cobra head lights being replaced with nine mission bell lights, bringing light nearly eight feet closer to the ground. The center of the roundabout is proposed to be mounded, so that headlights cannot be seen from neighboring homes, and the oblong shape of the roundabout is designed to bring down traffic speeds to 15-20MPH. Montecito Board of Architectural Review, a Design Working Group, COAST, and the Bicycle Coalition have contributed to the design of the project, and Montecito Fire Department has reviewed the plans, submitting a letter that states the development would provide acceptable fire access and service for the District. Because of the oblong shape of the roundabout, larger fire vehicles traveling northbound on Highway 101 and exiting on San Ysidro will need to complete a full circle of the roundabout in order to head east on North Jameson Lane, which Battalion Chief Aaron Briner wrote was acceptable, in a letter to the MPC.

Last week’s meeting was continued from April 22, with hopes that the May meeting would be able to be held in person versus virtually. With that not able to happen due to continued concerns over COVID-19, the Commissioners dug into the details of the project, in hopes to come to a conclusion by the end of the evening. In the end, the majority of the Commissioners said they were in favor of approving the project, but several also felt as if the process did not give MPC the opportunity to decide if the roundabout was the best solution to the traffic issues at the intersection. It was decided that County staff would draft additional conditions of approval for the project, for the commission to approve at a later date (June 10). “We are taking the due diligence to do this right,” said Commissioner Bob Kupiec.

Additional conditions to the project that the Commission would like added to the existing conditions of approval include further compatibility with the Montecito Community Plan; using the lowest allowable lighting; minimizing noise and working hours; and minimizing impact to open space views. Landscape conditions include using recycled water, removing any high fire plantings, banning chemical herbicides, and formulating a long-term maintenance agreement of the roundabout, which includes earmarking adequate funding in which to do so.

The Commission will meet on June 10 at a special hearing in which to review the added conditions and approve the project.

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