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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 26th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 52 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 52

Solvang battles over the Board of Architectural Review

By Camillia Lanham

By trying to make the city’s architectural review process more consistent, the Solvang City Council created a real headache for themselves, according to Mayor Pro Tem Robert Clarke.

“All we’re trying to do is streamline things and make it easier for people to get things done in this town ... and we’ve stepped on the third rail from hell,” Clarke said during the Feb. 24 City Council meeting. “And it’s really pissing me off.” 

This includes comments he said the council received from what he referred to as “two very nice cliques of people,” who have called council members profane names in response to changes the city is hoping to make to Solvang’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR). Those changes are intended to make it so a wine shop doesn’t have to wait two months to open because it needs to get their awning approved, he said. 

Solvang’s Board of Architectural Reveiw has decided the visual aesthetic of the city’s iconic Danish-looking downtown buildings and businesses since 1988. The City Council thinks it’s time for a change.

“I’m done with BAR. I want this thing finished, and I want this thing done,” Clarke said. 

The BAR has been on hiatus since January while the city sorts out what to do about the issue. In a staff report for a Jan. 15 special meeting, the city said maintenance of the city’s municipal code has been inconsistent, the city’s design guidelines haven’t been updated since 1988, and the BAR was last addressed in 1993 when the council accepted a resolution establishing the BAR. The committee is referenced in the city’s general plan and municipal code, but it’s a little all over the place and things are confusing, according to City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt.

“There are some things I do not fully understand,” Wullbrandt said during the Feb. 24 meeting. “There are clearly some updates that need to occur. There are ... times when the design guidelines seem to be followed—to a fault—and sometimes where they aren’t.”

The January staff report stated that the BAR’s review requirements haven’t been consistently applied—allowing additions of up to 300 square feet to move forward without review while requiring BAR approval for paint color changes. During the Feb. 24 meeting, the council heard recommendations about a potential BAR replacement but decided the issue needed more public input, and it pushed any changes to the future.

Clarke wasn’t the only City Council member who was upset about the way some residents in Solvang have responded to the city’s efforts to make the application of Solvang’s review requirements and design guidelines more consistent. Councilmember Karen Waite, who served on the ad-hoc committee with Mayor Ryan Toussaint, said the council has discovered so many processes that aren’t done correctly, and it’s time to start fixing things. 

“I have never ever in my life been faced with such opposition when trying to do something that will benefit our community, and I’m not backing down on this,” Waite said during the meeting. “It needs to be done.” 

Potential changes include implementing requirements for those who can serve on the committee and renaming it as the Branding and Design Committee. Acting City Manager Xenia Bradford told the City Council that eventually, the committee would be established through an ordinance and become part of the city’s municipal code. But, she also said, the city hasn’t had sufficient time to receive public input on the potential changes.

Elsa Marie Petersen, who spoke during public comment on the issue, served on the BAR for six or seven years. She said that architecture is important to the city of Solvang, and one of the reasons the city has come as far as it has is because of the BAR. She admitted that the city’s design guidelines do need to be updated, but she added that it’s not an easy task and shouldn’t be done hastily. 

As far as the changes that need to be made, Petersen said she’s unsure of exactly what the City Council wants.

“It all seems very secretive and political. All we hear is that BAR don’t know what they’re doing. Do you know?” she asked on Feb. 24. “The City Council always talks about transparency and yet we’ve been given little of it. ... Most architectural towns have a BAR, and as such, I believe Solvang should too.” 

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