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MONTECITO, CA-The Montecito Planning Commission has approved Los Angeles-based developer Caruso Affiliated’s plans for a new 192-room, five-star luxury hotel on the site of the shuttered Miramar Hotel. The planners voted 4-1 in favor of the plan, following a nine-hour meeting that was Caruso’s fourth appearance before the planning group since July.

The planning commission’s vote followed its conditional approval of the Caruso plan in September. The planning commission decision is final, but it is subject to appeal to the board of supervisors by a deadline of Oct. 20. Caruso Affiliated, headed by CEO Rick Caruso, intends to complete final design work and begin construction at the beginning of the year with an eye toward opening the redeveloped property in the spring of 2011.

Caruso’s plan for the 16-acre site calls for a hotel with three restaurants, a spa, a beach club, ballroom facilities and a boardwalk along Miramar Beach. The plan won the endorsement of all local homeowners associations, including the Montecito Association, and enjoyed support throughout the community.

Caruso purchased the Miramar site in February 2007 and released its first detailed plans for the project in June 2007. Since then, the development firm has revised the plan a number of times in response to community input.

The Miramar’s history dates back to 1876 when a pioneering couple named Josiah and Emmeline Doulton bought an ocean-front property and eventually developed it into a series of guest cottages called Ocean View Farm, later changing the name to Miramar. In recent years, two other prospective redevelopers of the site–hotelier Ian Schrager and hotelier-toy magnate Ty Warner–acquired the site but made little progress on restoring the property.

Caruso bought the hotel and grounds from Warner with the announced intention of turning it into a quality hotel and tourist destination. The project is something of a departure for the LA-based development firm, which is best known for developing and operating retail properties that include the Lakes at Thousand Oaks, the Commons at Calabasas, the Grove in Los Angeles and the Americana at Brand in Glendale.

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