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Letter to the Editor: When Is a Tree Worth Saving?

The Housing Authority of Santa Barbara has a favorable relationship with the City of Santa Barbara Planning Department. This outlook has led to its latest project becoming too aggressive, and the project has been pushed back by the citizen review boards.

The Architectural Board of Review was not able to give the Bradley Studios at 512 Bath St. preliminary approval because the staff hearing officer’s approval of four modifications was suspended by Planning Commissioner Stella Larson. Since the project did not receive ABR preliminary approval, an application for tax credit financing for the project could not be filed by July 1. Missing this deadline has the potential to stall the project for 18 months.

The main reason Larson suspended the staff hearing officer’s approval was because the project didn’t follow the recommendations of the Creek Commission’s 50-foot top of bank setback. The Housing Authority’s project at 512 Bath St. provides only a 25-foot setback. The goal of the Creeks Commission is to create a wide green belt adjacent to the creek to clean the urban water runoff before it enters the creek.

The Housing Authority also removed a 5-foot diameter Shamel Ash tree before receiving preliminary approval from ABR. During an ABR meeting, the applicant stated that there would be a loss of at least 10 units if they worked around the existing tree. Another sign of aggressiveness is that the Housing Authority’s project is also asking to increase the number of units for this project, a reduction in the number of parking spaces, permission to locate the trash in the side yard setback and a reduction in the building separations.

While the Housing Authority is clearly trying to provide social benefits for the community, it is not following our basic zoning ordinances and guidelines. It is refusing to honor a recommended creek setback, and it has removed a mature tree in the downtown area. Since it is providing a social benefit, it acts like it can follow the rules that suit its needs and request modifications for the ones that restrict its project too much.

Our town is beautiful because it was built using restraint. In the past, we have asked property owners to give us their best when it comes to building in Santa Barbara, and we should expect the same from the city Housing Authority. It is important that the Planning Commission instruct the applicant — the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara — that it needs to set the example of how to work around an existing obstruction, especially one as valuable as a 5-foot diameter tree. It is important that the city, when acting as a developer, follow the same rules as the citizens.

Paul Zink, architect
Santa Barbara

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