By Raiza Giorgi
Neighbors and developers of the Golden Inn and Village were given a month by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to sort out issues regarding lighting of the senior and affordable housing project that opened in the fall of 2016 at Highway 246 and Refugio Road.
The project will be brought back before the commission at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 123 E. Anapamu St. If the neighbors and developers haven’t found a solution, then the commission will.
Mark Brooks, a general contractor who represents his neighbors on Lucky Lane, just south of the Golden Inn and Village, said they agreed with what was planned and the purpose of the property, but not with what was built. They believe that Santa Barbara County allowed construction that did not comply with the project’s conditions of approval.
“I just want them to be accountable and notice more people than just the people that live within 300 feet, because this is a huge project for the valley and more than 20 neighbors should be noticed when changes have to be made,” Brooks said.
The problems cited by Brooks and his neighbors are the height and intensity of the outdoor lights; improperly constructed drainage that allows storm water to flood their properties; and the size of the buildings, which they say are bigger than what was permitted.
For example, the approved plans called for 44 light poles in the parking areas from 8 to 14 feet tall. Instead, the project has 25 pole lights that are 20 feet high, and the developer wants approval for that variation.
“The lighting plan had been changed and approved by the planning department … The shorter lights allowed for gaps in lighting, which especially for senior citizens isn’t appropriate. If we reduced the size of the poles it wouldn’t just be costly, but (would be) not to Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) standards,” said Lisa Plowman of RRM Design Group, the agent for Golden Inn and Villages.
Plowman said in her presentation to the commission that once the landscaping matures in several years that the height of the lights won’t really be an impact on the skyline and blend into the trees. She said she has tried very hard to comply with Brooks’ requests and has changed details of the project several times to accommodate the neighbors to the south.
“We planted pepper trees along the back fencing, and even changed the type of fencing. We feel that once the trees mature, which the pepper trees have already filled in quite a bit, that Mr. Brooks and his neighbors won’t be impacted by lights,” Plowman said.
The project also uses automatic lights that dim to 80 percent capacity at dusk and then 50 percent capacity at 9 p.m. and only come up if there is motion sensed from a car driving by or a person walking. They immediately dim again, according to Heather Grey, lighting engineer for the project.
The Planning Commission also asked Plowman and her team to look at changing the color of the lights to a warmer color, and possibly painting the back of the buildings to a darker color as the current yellow color might have an impact on reflectiveness.
The commission also directed them to heed the advice of Nancy Emerson, a representative of the Save Our Stars group. Emerson presented a letter in which she suggests that the project reduce all of the existing lights to 50 percent while maintaining safety and security and to turn them off in the playground.
“There shouldn’t be children playing after 9 p.m. in the playground, so those are not necessary,” Emerson told the commission.
The project should also install shields on the building side of all the fixtures along the rear of the senior building that faces Lucky Lane and remove non-compliant “up lights” above the senior building’s rear entrance. Emerson also suggested removing the streetlights nearest the neighbors because they significantly “over light” the rural area with their light “trespassing” onto the neighbors’ property.
The commissioners asked Emerson to work with PG&E, which is responsible for the lights along the street.
Regarding the flooding, the commission heard reports from Santa Barbara County Flood Control officials who said they had done above and beyond what was required of the project. They also pointed out that the flooding issues existed before the project was built, and in fact have been lessened by the project.
“It’s unfortunate they (the neighbors) flooded, but it was flooded everywhere. The fact is Lucky Lane only has a 16-inch culvert, and the highway has a 24-inch culvert. Whether or not the Village was there, they would have flooded anyways. We actually installed several areas of energy dissipaters to slow down the water coming through the property, and the drainage basins are larger than requested,” Plowman said.
Plowman said the residents of Lucky Lane need to get together and look at increasing the size of their drainage culvert to avoid flooding in the future.
The size of the project also fluctuated, but according to the developer and the county’s Housing Authority they had to be increased to meet the California Tax Credit funding requirements related to unit size.
There weren’t any additional rooms built or common areas added, but the size of the rooms had to be adjusted to fit under the guidelines of “substantial conformity,” which allows discretion in projects, Plowman added.
Brooks argued that the amendments failed to meet the Substantial Conformity rule, which allows an additional 1,000 square feet or a maximum of 10 percent of the total project, whichever is less. The developer is asking for much more than either of those stipulations, he noted.
“In the scope of projects I see sizing change all the time because some projects have to meet certain requirements and regulations. This is not uncommon,” said Commissioner Dan Blough.
Plowman also noted there was an error in the staff report that said the approved senior building was to be 46,067 square feet, when in actuality it was approved for 48,067 square feet.
To read the entire staff report, log onto http://sbcountyplanning.org/PDF/boards/CntyPC/08-30-2017/17RVP-00000-00046/Staff%20Report.pdf.