Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Landmarks commission questions botanic garden vital mission plan : Son of co-designer warns against 'plunking down' of new buildings


August 11, 2009 7:08 AM

Charged with defending the historic landscape design concept of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, the Santa Barbara County Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission on Monday amended and ultimately approved a letter to the county Planning Commission expressing concern over several elements of the garden's vital mission plan.

The garden sustained scorching to 60 of its 73 acres during the Jesusita Fire; as plans progress for its rehabilitation, new considerations compete for influence.

The first element dealt with by the commission's letter is that of the planned Meadow Terrace, referred to in the letter as "requiring structural additions that substantially deviate from the historic landscape design concept of the garden."

Some stonework is partially completed on the Meadow Terrace already, and the commission, with the exception of Vice Chair Deborah Schwartz, approved the letter, which demands the stonework be removed, going so far as to strengthen the language of the sentence to "shall be removed" from "should be removed," leaving no room for non-compliance.

Mrs. Schwartz did not vote to approve the letter because she said removing the stonework was unnecessary and an appropriate aesthetic can be achieved without doing so.

The second element is the paving of trails in the garden, which has been proposed to further comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The paving is described in the letter as "completely incompatible with the naturalistic trails that have been an important character-defining feature of the garden throughout its history and, as such, is a substantial deviation from the historic landscape design concept of the garden."

Commission Chairman John Woodward said a conflict exists between the ADA and the impact on such a historic landmark.

"What somebody has to do is that balancing," he said.

The commission also points out in its letter that the materials used, not just the paving itself, are vital.

"In heavy traffic areas that have traditionally been paved," states the letter, "the use of naturalistic materials (such as flagstone) instead of synthetic pavers would be acceptable."

Another element in which the ADA and the historic landmark design concept conflict is the historic main entrance.

The mission plan seeks to build a new, more accessible entrance, described by the letter as "where much of the dramatic views of the Meadow and mountains will be blocked or diminished upon entering."

The letter recommends reopening the main entrance, while possibly opening a second entrance to ensure more accessibility to the disabled.

Simply closing the main entrance is considered by the commission "a substantial deviation of the historic landscape concept as it greatly detracts from an important character-defining design feature of the Garden."

Public comment was uniform in asking commission members to defend as much history and natural scenery as possible.

Marc Chytilo made several comments, including lamenting the loss of a gigantic oak tree that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace with a smaller tree; insisting upon paving only where the need for it is demonstrated; asserting that "new buildings do not belong in the landmark" and recommending the elimination of an "inappropriate" snack window in the library.

Paulina Conn said she too is opposed to paving.

"There are wheelchairs that go on sand, there are scooters that go on a 12 percent grade," she said, also adding her distaste for proposed new buildings in the Garden, similar to Mr. Chytilo. "I find the new buildings all very, very massive. I would prefer something a little simpler."

Lanny Ebenstein, who submitted a letter to the commission prior to the meeting, said he thought too much consideration was being made to make things ADA accessible.

"The whole point of a historic landmark is that it can be exempt from codes. . .," he said. "The argument is not whether it an meet ADA requirements."

In his letter, Mr. Ebenstein expressed concern about the addition of buildings to the garden.

"The proposed development at the Botanic Garden would be equivalent to about 27 portable classrooms," says his letter. "This would be too much development there."

Kellam Deforest, son of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden co-designer Lockwood Deforest, said he also did not think "the plunking down of new buildings" was acceptable.

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