Henry Courtemanche grew up in Santa Barbara, and a few years ago he bought a small property in Santa Barbara Funk Zone.
The commercial building at 42 Helena Ave. had been a fish processing site. By the time Courtemanche became involved, the one-story property was empty and abandoned.
He cleaned it up put on a fresh coat of paint and retouched the skin of the building. His dream? Build a hotel there.
“We see there’s an opportunity here in Santa Barbara for luxury hospitality,” Courtemanche said.
There is only one problem. Santa Barbara has rules.
The entire building is 758 square feet and has no off-street parking. Hotels are permitted in this part of the Funk Zone, but only with a conditional use permit. A requirement of the CUP, however, is that the project have a combination of uses. Courtemanche offered outdoor bicycle storage to fill the need. As for the hotel, Courtemanche proposed a hotel with only two guest rooms, a shared kitchenette and shared toilets.
Courtemanche and its architect, Kevin Moore, took their idea to Santa Barbara Planning Commission Thursday and were met with a flurry of spitting alternatives from commission members.
“I share the view that there is probably better use for this property,” Planning Commission Chairman Gabe Escobedo said. “If you think a hotel is the best, so be it.”
The discussion sparked a broader debate about parking, hotels and the future of the city’s Funk Zone, which has emerged over the past 15 years as a haven for wine, beer and trendy restaurants.
However, it’s also congested with cars, with parking scarce most hours and days of the week. Buildings are a hodgepodge of styles, including spacious warehouses and new renovations, but the area between the beach and the 101 Freeway has become a tourist attraction and a destination for locals who want to feel seen.
Escobedo noted that one of the challenges of the proposal was the fact that there was no on-street parking and that the Planning Commission would have to grant a parking amendment to allow a hotel with no parking.
“I think we need to be a bit more flexible,” Escobedo said. “Sometimes we have these policies on the books, but we forget why they exist and why they are created. We should try to find solutions.”
Architect Moore, who is also the city’s president Architectural Review Boardaddressed the commission and explained why a change in parking could be granted.
“There are a number of public parking lots nearby,” Moore said. “So if a guest arrives with a car, operations would recommend parking that vehicle in one of the nearby public car parks. They would drive to the hotel and hopefully be able to use the bike rentals that are located right in front of the plot.”
However, urban planner Alison DeBusk has set the record straight. She said the city doesn’t have a parking zone in the Funk Zone.
“The Garden Street car park, essentially all of these parking spaces, is allocated for other public uses in the area, so there are no additional spaces available to be used as a parking area,” DeBusk said. . “To do that, we would need an amendment to the local coastal plan.”
DeBusk also said most Funk Zone properties are legal, but non-compliant. She said many sites had no parking, although the uses had changed.
“There are very few sites with actually approved edits,” DeBusk said.
During a back-of-the-napkin brainstorm, commission members tossed around a few ideas for the small site, including a wine tasting room, a dance hall with a salsa night or cooking demonstrations.
Curator Leslie Wiscomb suggested that instead of bike storage, there could be an outdoor art gallery.
“You might consider a competition and ask a few local artists to make sculptures for this outdoor space,” Wiscomb said.
Courtemanche was open to the idea of an outdoor art gallery. He said it could be beautiful and a great amenity for hotel guests.
“We just want to do whatever’s best for the city to make sure it’s used and just put it to use because it’s been around for so long,” he said.
The building stood empty for more than five years.
Since this was a concept review, no formal action was taken. The developer will follow the advice and come back with a formal application.
“I have no problem with this being a hotel, even though hotel rooms are the last thing Santa Barbara needs, but I understand why this is being offered,” the commissioner said. Sheila Lodge. “Clearly everyone here wants to see you have a successful use for you and for the Funk Zone.”