Santa Barbara Planning Commission Supports Apartment Project But Wants More Rental Units | Local News
Downtown Santa Barbara is expected to accommodate 27 new apartments, but the debate at Thursday’s town meeting Urban planning committee was whether 27 was enough.
Owner Jeremy Bassan wants to build a three-story apartment building at 222 E. Canon Perdido St., on what is currently a parking lot, next to a commercial building.
The project provides for 19 parking spaces in a puzzle lift stacking system and six surface spaces. Parking would be for the commercial building. No resident parking is offered because it is downtown and residents would have to park on city land or not have a vehicle.
The apartments would consist of 15 one-bedroom units and 12 studios.
A version of the project has been dragging on for a few years. It was originally proposed as a seven-unit condominium project. After pushing back the construction of condos instead of apartments, the development team changed the proposal to a 34-unit, four-story apartment project.
The Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commissionhowever, raised concerns that the project was four stories tall and created a canyon effect on the site, and was too close to El Presidio of Santa Barbara State Historic Park.
So on Thursday, the development team reduced the project to 27 units and eliminated the fourth floor.
Commission Chairman Gabe Escobedo, a housing advocate, was upset.
“I’m not happy to have lost seven units,” Escobedo said. “We have limited areas of opportunity for us to develop housing.”
Informally known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara has struggled to build enough housing for the number of people who work in the city. For decades, the city’s housing policies discouraged developers from building rental housing.
In 2013, the city approved what’s called an “Average Unit Density” program, which allows developers to build high-density housing if they’re building rental housing. Since then, the program has resulted in approximately 400 new rental units and 331 more in the development pipeline.
As originally designed, the ordinance did not require units to be rented below market. As a result, for the first time in decades, developers were building apartments, but without government-mandated limits, they were renting them at market prices, with one-bedroom and two-bedroom units renting for $2,700 and 3 $500 at some locations.
In 2019, the city added an inclusive housing element that requires 10% of so-called AUD units to be rented below market.
The project is also unwittingly in competition with housing authoritywhich builds traditional affordable housing and is also looking for land around the city to develop housing.
About 15,000 people from Ventura and northern Santa Barbara County travel to Santa Barbara for work Monday through Friday because housing is cheaper in other cities.
Escobedo said city design guidance shouldn’t discourage housing, adding that if size, volume and scale considerations are needed, there needs to be a new conversation if those concerns result in the loss of new apartments.
This project, he said, does not need changes, so the city should not provide comments that reduce the units of a project.
“I am deeply troubled,” Escobedo said.
In his comments on Thursday, he suggested the developer consider adding the fourth floor as it would mean more housing and one more unit below market price.
Commissioner Lesley Wiscomb added: “We want people who work here to live here, to be able to have jobs here.”
The project also provides 28 parking spaces for bicycles, in a system of bicycle lifts. There is also a driveway, made of concrete, which is essentially unused.
Christine Pierron, architect at Cearnal Collective, said the company was in talks with the city to convert that area into green or open space for the project. The developer is also in talks with El Presidio State Historic Park in Santa Barbara to donate part of the property for an easement.
The height of the project would be approximately 38 feet 4 inches, compared to 38 feet 11 inches in the original condo proposal.
Commissioner John Baucke also expressed disappointment with the direction of the HLC.
“I’m just very frustrated that you lost the fourth floor,” Baucke said. “I don’t see this as a good decision. We need as many units as possible.”
The project is still in the concept review stage, so the development team will take the advice of the commission and the HLC and submit a revised project.
“This is a great opportunity for some downtown rental housing,” Pierron said.