Will ‘The Nest’ Come to Roost in Isla Vista?


Giuseppe Ricapito
IV Beat Reporter

The Santa Barbara County Board of Architectural Review (SBAR) convened on Friday, Feb. 7, for a conceptual review of “The Nest,” a 45-foot tall four-story mixed-use project for commercial, residential, and hotel use in the center of downtown Isla Vista.

If approved for construction at the planned site of 910 Embarcadero del Mar, the building complex would necessitate the demolition of two of Isla Vista’s well-loved debauched institutions: Dublin’s Sports Bar and the tattoo parlor Precious Slut.

The current plan calls for 12,513 square feet of commercial use at the ground floor, 8,400 square feet for the second-story hotel (14 rooms), and 11,632 square feet for 19 single-occupancy residential units on the third and fourth floors. Twenty-three stacked parking spaces are also available at the south end, facing Madrid Road.

“Our goal was to get the right amount of commercial, the right amount of hotel units, and the right amount of units to make this project viable,” said Jeff Shelton, the architect for the project, during the board review. “The other part of the goal was to make this a friendly corner, a pedestrian corner.”

But The Nest proposal has prompted another prescient dialogue—in terms of architectural development and the glaring creep of gentrification—about the Future of Isla Vista.

Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District Board Member Pegeen Sootar addressed the Board during the meeting.

“I have concerns about strain on infrastructure, I have concerns about the hotel, changing character of the downtown area and parking,” Sootar said. “I don’t want more development in Isla Vista. We’ve got 23,000 people; we do not have the infrastructure to support even what we have existing now.”

Sootar cited a host of potential issues with The Nest—further congestion of the heavily used bike thoroughfare on Pardall, a lack of available parking (23 spaces for 33 total units), and the potentially high rent expense of another luxury apartment complex.

Though Sootar acknowledged her appreciation for the beauty of the architectural design, she maintained, “as far as Isla Vista, in that area, I don’t see it working…”

Shelton, who grew up in Santa Barbara, noted his admiration for “the funkiness of IV.” But he also asserted an alternate notion—community transformation.

“The Isla Vista Master Plan has indicated that there’s going to be change,” Shelton said. “I’m hired to do a project with certain uses, so I have to make it work as good as possible. Things just don’t stay the same.”

The Nest is ambitious in both construction and artistic vision. If built, it would contribute to the idea of Isla Vista as a hub of homegrown capitalist aspirations and as an alluring tourist attraction. But the project has prompted opposition from student leaders—many question the need for an IV hotel, the unequal benefits provided for property owners, and even if the design fits the architectural disposition of the community.

In a letter to SBAR, Associated Students President Jonathon Abboud outlined the discontent of student opposition to The Nest.

“The general consensus among the student residents of IV is further development of buildings similar to The Loop, Icon, Icon Gardens, and Plaza Lofts isn’t desirable in our community,” Abboud said. “In this and future decisions, it would be appreciated that our distaste for large and unaffordable apartments be given the highest consideration.”

External Vice-President of Local Affairs Alex Moore echoed this concern at the meeting.

“It just doesn’t fit,” he said. “I think a lot of students have expressed concern to me as their representative that the aesthetic quality is something they’re worried about. To put it just directly on Pardall is to really change the character of our downtown area, and maybe not for the better.”

A conceptual handout of The Nest suggests a cross between Dr. Seuss and the French Quarter—stylized swirls and ceramic tile meet the pavement, drawing up to painted walls of coral pink and sunlit yellow. The building—featuring glass archways, a fanciful array of windmills, outcropping canopies, and hanging vines—embodies this whimsical conception. Surrounded by palm trees at the north and west, the concept also incorporates a plan for a deck and glass pavilion on the recessed third floor.

Shelton acknowledged he didn’t have a name for his style.

“Some people probably call it a lot of things…but I don’t, I just draw,” he said. He did, however, note his idea for The Nest as, “a bit playful and a bit delightful on the corner.”

In addition, the pamphlet includes a plan to create sustainable energy “via solar photovoltaics” and a “stormwater reuse system.” Twenty percent of residential units have also been allocated for “affordable housing.”

The “Concept Review” for The Nest—the first of three steps with SBAR—was intended to ensure the project’s compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood, in regards to size, bulk and scale. SBAR is currently conducting a “completeness review” of the initial application in terms of environmental policy and ordinance analysis, said Supervising Planner Ann Almy.

The Concept Review has not yet been approved and board members currently plan to visit the proposed site to gain an understanding of how the surrounding structures “dialogue” with one another. Following a Preliminary Review of the structure’s overall concept, layout, and approach, and a Final Review of its specific details, the project is sent to the Planning Commission for approval.

Almy also noted that if the proposal is denied, due process allows for the final decision to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

“And because this is in Isla Vista it can be appealed to the Coastal Commission as well,” she said.

The Nest still has many hurdles to conquer on the way to potential construction—“were talking a long long long time,” said Almy.

But even during these early stages, many Isla Vistans have expressed frustration at the community’s exclusion from the development and planning process.

When prompted on the idea about an Isla Vista forum for the project, Shelton responded with enthusiasm, “I’ll come up anytime,” he said.

There is little doubt though, that despite a well-earned nostalgia for our current scene, change is on the horizon. If Icon and the Loop have set a precedent—that change has already arrived.