Planners seek more details of design plan
By Daryl Kelley
After quizzing operators of Sea Fresh Seafood extensively, Ojai city planners moved toward approval this week of an expansion of the popular Ojai Avenue eatery that would nearly double its size and dramatically alter its appearance.
Officially, the city’s Planning Commission continued the matter until Sept. 2, but commissioners indicated that they would give Gustavo Garcia and Mayra Sutton the go-ahead for the expansion once details of its design are clear.
The commission appointed two of its members, architects Steven Foster and John Mirk, to work with the applicants so the panel would be comfortable with a clearer, more detailed design.
“Then we could move forward with confidence,” Chairwoman Susan Weaver said, “so we could all enjoy eating at Sea Fresh for years to come.”
Indeed, the commission which rejected expansion of the restaurant last September because of design concerns, seemed intent on moving the project forward this time.
Commissioners thanked the applicants for changes in their plans — using a public parking lot across the street and tweaking the architecture so its Mission and Craftsman styles blend better and fit better into city plans for the East Ojai Avenue area.
The new design also has less glass on the front facade of the restaurant, support columns in the lobby have been lowered and landscaping has been added in place of parking on the Bald Street side of the project.
Indeed, landscaping, which now covers about 7 percent of the site, would cover 20 percent in the new design, Garcia said.
“It’s not a whole new building; we’re just trying to remodel an old building,” Garcia told the commission. “This would be a great improvement. … We want to get started as soon as possible.”
Commissioners said they thought they could reach agreement once architectural drawings, currently flat and two-dimensional, are refined.
The applicants said they’d been trying to save about $1,200 by not redoing the drawings, so they could afford the expansion without borrowing money.
Commissioners seemed to understand.
“What we need to do is just kick this up a notch in terms of detail,” said architect Foster. “Why don’t you just come over to my office … so we could get a consensus on this and so we could feel comfortable in moving ahead.”
The city’s planning staff recommended denial of the expansion’s design permit because staffers found the two designs offered by applicants had changed little since the issue was first heard nearly a year ago.
“The first option, which is the applicant’s preferred option, has a pitched wooden trellis in front of the main door of the restaurant,” according to the staff report. “The second option has a flat wooden trellis in front of the main door. Staff finds that the design of both options have not changed significantly …”
The staff said the application could also be continued “to provide an opportunity for the applicant to redesign the exterior of the building that would integrate more authentic architectural design elements to create interest to the facade of the building.”
But planning commissioners said they generally liked the design. “I don’t see that as such a problem,” Foster said.
And, in the end, commissioners agreed that their concerns were based mostly on the lack of definition in the drawings of the proposed expansion.
“That’s what scares me,” Foster said. “We could approve something like this and it could come out looking like a block.”
Once design details are nailed down, however, they said they’d be ready to move ahead on the application.
“I’m in your restaurant at least once a month,” Foster said. “I think it’s a win-win situation. I’d just like to see this taken to another design level.”