A 76-unit rental housing project is planned on the site of the Capitol Hardware store on North Milpas Street, shown in a design rendering here.  (Contributed photo)

The owner of Capitol Hardware on Milpas Street wants to convert his store into a 76-unit rental apartment project and “cool coffee shop.”

Alan Bleecker’s store and two residential units are on the property at 711 N. Milpas St. now, and he wants to build 44 two-bedroom units and 32 one-bedroom units ranging in size from 575 to 805 square feet.

He has proposed 89 parking spaces and 80 bike parking spots.

The Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review approved the project in 2016, but it was reviewed again last week for some design elements.

The ABR gave the architectural firm, RRM Design, an indefinite continuance to continue working on the design’s compatibility with the neighborhood. 

Bleecker told Noozhawk that the property currently is valued at about $5 million or $6 million, but that in six or seven years, when the apartments are built, the value could reach $37 million. He said he is not doing it for the money, however.

Instead, he sees the project as a catalyst for something greater on Milpas Street and in Santa Barbara.

“We need housing,” said Bleecker, noting that more than 50 percent of his employees live in Lompoc and Ventura.

“My goal is to make this into workforce housing,” he said. “We want to market it to a younger crowd. Times are changing. The younger crowd is expecting something fresh. We are trying to keep it as new and fresh and contemporary. My goal is to have people who live there who don’t like cars, who ride their bikes to work, who ride Uber.”

The project is part of the city’s controversial Average Unit-sized Density incentive program, which allows developers to stack multiple apartments on smaller pieces of land in exchange for building badly needed rental apartments in the city.

For Milpas Street, it’s the latest high-density project that has roiled neighbors and community activists, who believe the area’s working class, homegrown charm is being steadily replaced by new developments that are dramatically transforming the neighborhood. 

The size of this project has angered some residents and activists who believe that it is too big for Santa Barbara and doesn’t fit into the neighborhood.

Natalia Govoni showed photos of surrounding buildings at the recent ABR meeting. 

“It is perplexing and baffling as to why this board would even consider this project especially since it lacks serious compatibility for the Eastside,” Govoni said. “Place it in Carpinteria where the applicant resides. Let he and his family be burdened with a project of this magnitude and architectural style. Obviously they love the style so I think it would be only right and fair to put it in their city where they reside.”

Natasha Todorovic said the project is incompatible with the neighborhood. 

“This is precedent setting,” Todorovic said. “This project looks exactly like what I have seen in downtown Los Angeles and downtown Toronto or even downtown in the Netherlands. It doesn’t look like Santa Barbara at all.”

Bleecker said he understands the concerns, but that the project has already received mass, bulk and scale approval from the ABR, so just the design elements are still being finalized.  

He hopes to break ground on the project in April or May next year.

“It’s really about the highest and best use of our property,” he said. “We do have an acre and a half. It doesn’t make sense to have a hardware store there, although we have owned it for more than 50 years.”

Bleecker plans to move his hardware store to Salsipuedes Street and has already leased a building. 

“I want this project to be cool Santa Barbara,” he said. “I want this project to be a catalyst for fixing Santa Barbara. It’s a legacy thing for us.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.