Ulrika Plaza

An artist's rendition of the proposed Ulrika Plaza in downtown Carmel.

It's never a good sign for a developer in a city meeting when the first public comment about your project includes the word "ticky-tacky."

That's how a Carmel Planning Commission workshop for the proposed Ulrika Plaza at the corner of Dolores Street and 5th Avenue began on Wednesday afternoon. The project includes 12 apartments, 15 retail spaces and a large rooftop deck for residents, as well as a basement garage.

"I am not against this project, I am against this iteration," former Carmel planning commissioner Don Goodhue said as the public comment period began. "The fundamental problem is two fundamentally conflicting styles, both bad, with ticky-tacky fighting monumental."

The building as proposed is half Tudor and half Mediterranean, borrowing two styles that were built in Carmel a century ago. Goodhue and others pointed out that the design does not meet the city's commercial design standards, which in part require buildings to be cohesive and blend with other surrounding styles to avoid a "hodge podge" appearance. 

"I feel this design is exactly such a hodge podge conflicting with everyone of those guidelines," Goodhue said. 

The next speaker, Dale Byrne, was the only positive voice of the meeting, praising developer Esperanza Carmel, the project design and the opportunity to fill in "The Pit," as residents call the existing large hole in the ground left by the last developer who excavated and then ran out of funds. Byrne urged the commission help take the project "to the finish line" quickly.

That did not sit well with subsequent speakers, like former planning commissioner Ian Martin, who said, "We as a community cannot lower our standards simply because we're tired of looking at The Pit. Whatever gets built there could easily be there for 100 years or more."

Martin was followed by other former commissioners, as well as former city councilmembers and former mayor Steve Dallas, all squarely against the building's design and other features. Some of their comments included "Disney" and "Disneyland," in reference to copying design styles.

Things got worse for Esperanza Carmel as the meeting progressed, when the current planning commissioners weighed in. They cited a combined long list of problems with the project in addition to design.

Some of those problems included the removal of affordable housing from the previous developer's plans and the failure of the building to make the transition from a commercial area of town to nearby residential homes. Some said the focus should be on more residential units and less retail. Commissioners also said the proposed roof deck would attract large gatherings and be incompatible with nearby homes.

"I think the messenger to the developer is that this project needs to be redesigned for all the reasons that have been stated," commission Chair Michael LePage said. He didn't want the process to be a negative one for the developer, he said, but rather a chance to create a successful project. 

Since the item on Wednesday's agenda was a workshop, no vote was taken. It's up to the developer to come back and ask for formal approval. Commissioners stated they would not vote in favor of the project as currently proposed.

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