The proposed apartment project at 701 N. Milpas St. in Santa Barbara would also include commercial space.
The proposed apartment project at 701 N. Milpas St. in Santa Barbara would also include commercial space. (Courtesy rendering)

The 82-unit apartment project proposed for the 700 block of Milpas Street won favorable comments this week from members of the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review.

Jay Bjorndahl, Ed St. George and Alan Bleecker make up the development team behind the four-story project, which sailed through the ABR.

The project is a four-story, mixed-use project on a 1.52-acre lot at 701 N. Milpas St. It would include 16 moderate-income units and 1,365 square feet of commercial space as well as 110 parking spaces.

The meeting mostly focused on exterior design changes since the project went before the board a year ago.

“I think you have done good improvements since the last time,” board member Richard Six said.

Board president Kevin Moore said he was impressed with the look of the building facing Milpas Street.

“The massing along Milpas Street is successful,” Moore said. “It’s really just three floors on Milpas Street. That’s appropriate.”

The height of the building is mostly 48 feet with the highest part of the building reaching 52 feet.

The project would undoubtedly revolutionize Milpas Street, bringing a four-story building to a working-class residential and commercial area. The city approved a development agreement in 2021 to allow St. George and the team to build the project, but work with the city on design elements.

Members of the City Council supported the development agreement because it brings more housing into the supply stock. Santa Barbara needs to find areas to build 8,001 new units by 2035 — a request from the State of California.

The units would be rental apartments, intended to be affordable by design, but would rent at the market rate, sans the units set aside for moderate incomes.

Santa Barbara is perpetually struggling with a housing crisis because there are more jobs in the city than there are homes. About 15,000 people commute into the city every day from outside Santa Barbara because the housing is less expensive in Ventura County, Lompoc and Santa Maria.

Although the new building would change the feel and tone of the street, it’s envisioned as part of the solution to the housing crisis, and the first of what likely would be many to come along the corridor. 

“When I think about it, this building is so different from its surroundings that it’s going to have to stand on its own,” Six said. “Trying to disguise it as a village is not going to work.”

Board member Lauren Andersen supported the project, but suggested a different shade of color for the building.

“I have a hard time with it all being pure white just because Milpas doesn’t really have a lot of all pure white buildings, and if they do they are much newer and it doesn’t feel like it complements the neighborhood,” Andersen said.

The board gave direction with a 7-0 vote to look at the project again next month. The board told the architect and development team to make several aesthestic changes, including making the tower “less spindly”; reducing the massing of the overall project; changing the parapets and corners of the roof; studying the surrounding neighborhood for its colors and making them part of the project; and providing larger box sizes for the proposed screenign trees on the side of the building facing Santa Barbara Junior High School, among other suggestions.

St. George told Noozhawk after the meeting that he was pleased with the board’s direction.

“This project was originally approved without a single affordable unit, but Alan (Bleecker) and I added a 20% affordable element,” St. George said. “The affordability is exactly what the community wants and needs.”

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