A Santa Barbara landlord who recently was sued by the city over the condition of his properties has his sights set on developing more rental units in a Westside neighborhood. Prospective neighbors are pushing back, however, and are taking their cause to city officials.
Dario Pini recently submitted an application to the city to build a two-story, five-bedroom residence at 1911 Chino St., directly behind a single-family home that he already rents out.
Neighbors say the front house has four bedrooms, but that seven people currently live there. Following that pattern, they say the proposed structure at the rear of the property is likely to become a “boarding house” that could house 10 people, or more.
The city’s Architectural Board of Review got a glimpse of the project on Jan. 7 and will be looking at a revised proposal at its Tuesday night meeting.
If the board approves the project, neighbors have vowed to appeal the decision to the city council.
The project is the first to be submitted by Pini since the city filed a civil suit against him in December, alleging that his properties were poorly managed, filled with code violations and packed with too many residents. The suit threatened to put the properties into receivership until the violations are fixed.
When Architectural Board of Review members took a look at Pini’s new project, they heard from a half-dozen neighbors with concerns about his plans, and his track record.
Board member Gary Mosul observed that although the building plans followed the city’s rules exactly, a problem still remained.
“Clearly this is a boarding house,” he said, lamenting that the ABR is only charged with considering the aesthetics of projects.
“We all see it and we can’t do anything about it,” he said, encouraging the neighbors to appeal to the city council. “I think this is horrible for your neighborhood.
“We also know that (Dario Pini) does this in town,” he said.
The controversy swirling around Pini was on the minds of neighbors who gathered Friday to look over revised plans from his architect. Five of the neighbors adjacent to the Chino Street property met in Evelyn Lee’s dining room, with the new plans spread out across the table.
The issues are twofold, according to neighbor Patrick Burns.
There are the concerns about the project itself, that the two-story structure will tower above neighbors’ fences and have windows that peer into their homes, that it will block mountain views, and that it will add to parking congestion on the street.
But Burns said a deeper issue is Pini’s alleged history of overcrowding in the existing house, and at other properties.
“There’s no message that he’s not going to do this again,” Lee added.
Richard Berrett, who lives next door, said Pini’s project isn’t compatible with the neighborhood, while neighbors Ryan and Ralph Romero say the two-story residence would look directly into a bedroom in their home.
But Gil Barry, Pini’s architect for the project, said he has “bent over backward” to address all of the neighbors’ concerns, even giving them two weeks to go over the plans. He said he eliminated three bedrooms after hearing the concern over the number of tenants, and he’s worked to preserve the views.
In his 35 years as an architect, “I have never made this many accomodations,” he said. “It took all the profit out of the project.
“Some of the neighbors made ridiculous comments like they thought it was a dorm for students,” he said, adding that state law prohibits landlords from discriminating between four Santa Barbara City College students or a family of four.
“The neighbors’ concerns had nothing to do with architecture,” he said. “It had to do with social concerns.”
Barry said Pini had rented the front house to four people, who he said must have allowed three others to move in without the landlord’s knowledge.
“Is that his fault that they squeezed in extra people?” he asked. “He gets blamed for things that the people do.”
Barry pointed out that the project is consistent with the lot’s zoning, and fits in with the city’s goal to build more rental housing in the downtown area.
“We’re providing housing, which is a needed thing, and we’re following all the rules,” he said. “I was shocked that there would be this opposition.”
City Planner Betty Weiss said the city has an interest in seeing Pini’s properties improved.
She confirmed for Noozhawk that the front house on the Chino Street property has been under enforcement from the building and safety division, but she said she couldn’t elaborate further.
The building and safety division, part of the city’s Community Development Department, must address how many people are safely living at a space.
“They don’t share a lot of details,” Weiss said. “They are trying to work it out.”
The 1911 Chino St. property is zoned R-2, for multiple-unit development, which technically would permit 12 dwelling units on that parcel.
“The number of bedrooms and bathrooms is not a zoning violation,” Weiss explained.
She also said that the city works in layers, with planning and development processing Pini’s new project, while building and safety works separately to enforce any codes that might be violated.
For neighbor Patrick Burns, that response is not enough.
“This is a case study,” he said, pointing to Pini’s plans for the site.
Burns urged the city to look more closely at how it processes projects from what he calls repeat offenders. He said he and his neighbors feel frustrated, and have been told the city can only do so much.
“Our hands are tied ...” he said. “How do we stop somebody who just scoffs at the law?”
Tuesday’s Architectural Board of Review meeting begins at 3 p.m. in the David Gebhard Meeting Room at 630 Garden St.