Olive Mill Roundabout Update
At an over nine-hour joint hearing on Thursday, August 20, the Santa Barbara City Planning Commission and the Montecito Planning Commission went over the proposed roundabout project at Coast Village Road and Olive Mill Road with a fine-tooth comb, digging into design details, functionality, aesthetics, and conditions of approval of the project, which is in both the City and County jurisdictions.
The project consists of reconfiguring the currently clunky six-legged intersection at Olive Mill Road, Coast Village Road, North Jameson Lane, Highway 101 northbound off-ramp, and Highway 101 southbound on-ramp to a single lane roundabout. According to staff, the approaches to the intersection at each of the legs of the roundabout would be modified to include new road curvature to slow traffic, and there would be pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalks, street lighting, signage, crosswalks, landscaping, and drainage facilities. Pedestrian access would continue to be provided on the west and north legs of the intersection and discouraged on the eastern legs near the highway on-ramps and off-ramps, which is consistent with the recently-repaired Olive Mill Road highway overcrossing, which intentionally eliminated a sidewalk on the east side of Olive Mill Road to concentrate pedestrian movement along the westside of Olive Mill Road.
Those pedestrian crossings would be improved with the addition of a crosswalk along the northern leg (Olive Mill Road North), shortened crossing lengths, refuge islands, and lighting. The existing bike lanes along Coast Village Road, Olive Mill Road (North), and North Jameson Lane would be maintained up to the roundabout approaches, and the roundabout approaches would be narrowed to slow traffic and merge the vehicle lane and bike lane into a shared roadway. Cyclists wishing to not ride through the roundabout could dismount their bikes and cross the west and north legs of the roundabout as pedestrians. The 87,392-square-foot project footprint would extend beyond the existing road improvements, and all improvements would be accommodated within existing Caltrans, City, and County right-of-way.
The project includes removal of up to 50 trees, with replacement on a 3:1 basis. Other landscaping includes low water use native and Mediterranean plant species. Relocation of some utility infrastructure would also be required to accommodate the project improvements.
During the hearing, which was at times contentious between the City PC and MPC, staff explained the intersection has long been problematic, as recognized in 1992 when the Montecito Community Plan was written. The project has been in the works for over seven years, when Public Works identified a roundabout as the preferred improvement for the area, which was confirmed during the environmental review of the upcoming widening of Highway 101. Since last year, there have been numerous public hearings and community meetings to discuss the project, and for project designers to gain input from the community and nearby residents. The small size of the project site causes many constraints, including existing right-of-way, design standards required for the freeway off-ramp, truck turning movements, and more. The project also requires the protection of public views, lighting to maintain semi-rural character, “old Santa Barbara” signage style, and must be compatible with the surrounding area.
Only a small handful of speakers spoke during the public comment period, including Doug Fell, a representative of developer John Price, who owns the new building at 1298 Coast Village Road which will be impacted by the project. Fell’s concerns include access to the building’s underground garage, which would be impacted by a proposed MTD bus stop on Olive Mill Road, where buses may momentarily block ingress and egress into the garage when picking up or dropping off bus patrons. “No project should have a bus stop that blocks ingress and egress to the property for any period of time,” Fell said. Several members of the City Planning Commission agreed, and language was written into the Conditions of Approval that prevent MTD from blocking the driveway. Other concerns from the building owner include the impact of the commercial tenants in the building during the construction period, which is expected to take one year.
Montecito resident Bob Hazard voiced concern over the loss of a right-hand turning lane from Coast Village Road to Olive Mill Road, saying that the current right-hand lane allows for better traffic flow at the intersection. MPC commissioner Ron Pulice agreed, and asked for more clarification from project designers. “A roundabout is much more efficient than a stop sign. A separate right turn lane is not warranted,” said project engineer Ron Boyle.
Other concerns about the project include the impact on the neighboring property at 110 Olive Mill. Property owner Roger Rittner has been very vocal about the negative impact the project will have on his property’s privacy and livability. City and County staff maintain that they are working together with Rittner to soften the impacts as much as possible with tree and plant screening, as well as adding a fence between Rittner’s property and the project. “The City is very supportive of working with the property owner,” said planner Laura Yanez. “We want him to feel shielded from the proposed project.”
The two commissions disagreed on the process of the meeting, with City Commissioners deliberating and voting to approve the project with modified conditions, while the MPC voted to continue deliberations until their next regular hearing on September 16. MPC chair Donna Senaur said, “This is an extraordinarily important project for our community, and we need to be diligent, and efficient,” implying that the City PC was rushing their comments and decision due to a self-imposed 6 pm deadline, when one or more of the City commissioners needed to leave.
Senaur said the point of meeting jointly was to hash out differences in standards between the two jurisdictions, and reconcile those differences. “We are not going to remain online for hours here, or together in Go-To-Webinar, trying to perfectly align differences in standards or recommendations between our two jurisdictions,” countered City PC chair Deborah Schwartz. “We are going to leave it to the joint staff and the applicant to work through any misalignment. I don’t think this format allows for all of the back and forth negotiations among all of the commissioners that are on both sides of this.”
Later, there was a moment when a live microphone picked up what sounded to be the beginning of disparaging words about Schwartz; planning analyst Ellen Kokinda stepped in and muted everyone, asking to take a five-minute break to regroup and diffuse the situation. It was unclear whose microphone was live, and who made the remarks.
The City PC voted unanimously to approve the project with modified conditions of approval before signing off of the virtual meeting. The MPC voted to continue discussing the project until September 16.
“This is going to handle the traffic so much better than it does now,” said City PC commissioner Sheila Lodge.
For more information about the project, visit www.santabarbaraca.gov.