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Architect Detty Peikert Draws Attention On, To Housing Issues

Density, open space, building heights and sustainability are all part of today's architectural challenges and opportunities

Detty Peikert, the principal and founder of local architectural firm Peikert Group Architects, has been highly praised as well as viciously maligned in the past several years for both his designs and his ideals.

The dispute over Peikert’s Citrus Village project in Goleta is the most recent development in which Peikert has been involved. How did the soft-spoken, unassuming man get at the center of so much controversy?

The Citrus Village project, now five years in the planning and design phase, was originally approved as a 12-unit condominium project, but a recently upheld appeal by the Goleta City Council will scale back the project to nine units. The land at 7388 Calle Real is zoned to 12.3 units, but some Goleta residents believe that at 12 units, the complex would simply be “too dense.”

“If the land is zoned and approved at 12.3 units originally, then we should be able to have the reasonable expectation of building within those guidelines,” said Peikert, an award-winning architect with 30 years of experience. “That’s not to mention the fact that most of the land around here is zoned to 20 units-per-acre, and we are only proposing 12, which is a very moderate density.”

In addition, he said, Citrus Village was designed to have 42 percent open space, even at 12 units, while much of the land being developed in the region has only a 15 percent to 20 percent open-space requirement.

Peikert said the “misdirection of thought” concerning aspects of his architecture, such as density, is just a symptom of a larger social problem.

“I have always been interested in figuring out how to live on this earth in a more harmonious, balanced way,” said Peikert, a board member of the Sustainability Project of Santa Barbara. “And I try to carry those principles over into my architecture.”

The idea of “sustainable design” is paramount to Peikert and his team, as is the importance of meeting low-income housing requirements. Both of these ideals have to do with what he calls our “social equity.” Achieving balance through his architecture is a pursuit that he emphasized several times. “I love what I do,” he said. “I love architecture, and I try my best to design buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and in harmony with the little bit of land that we have left.”

In Santa Barbara, meanwhile, Peikert is working against a November ballot initiative that would restrict maximum building heights to 40 feet from 60 in much of the downtown area. He said he’s hopeful that pragmatism will not take a backseat to aestheticism.

“This is a time in history when we should be facilitating greater building heights and encouraging ‘smart growth,’” Peikert said. “Lowering building heights will decrease available housing, causing urban sprawl.”

Steve Amerikaner, a land-use attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and a fellow board member of the Coastal Housing Coalition, a workforce housing advocacy group, echoes his colleague’s warning.

“We have a critical housing shortage,” said Amerikaner, who is also board president of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce. “To get more housing, we either need to build ‘out’ or build ‘up.’ If our community is not willing to allow taller buildings, and at the same time blocks housing on undeveloped land, then it cannot claim to be serious about addressing the housing shortage.”

However, advocates of the Save El Pueblo Viejo initiative, such as former Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge, have a much different view of the proposed height restrictions. Save El Pueblo Viejo is a citizens group, of which Lodge is a founding member, made up of more than 100 volunteers. The organization collected more than 11,500 signatures to place the charter amendment on the ballot for the Nov. 3 election.

“The initiative will not lessen the ability to build the kind of housing this community needs,” Lodge said. “Santa Barbara has an ordinance limiting the number of floors to four. No matter what the height of the building is, that is all that is allowed.

“Our initiative will protect what people say — over and over — that they love about Santa Barbara: Its small-town feel, its sense of openness, and its views,” she added.

Still, Peikert fears the initiative will severely limit the options for dealing with Santa Barbara’s housing needs, causing a class imbalance in the community.

“We are foreclosing on our ability to meet the demands of the future,” Peikert said.

— Kevin McFadden is a Noozhawk contributor.

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