Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 4:53 pm | Fair 70º


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City Council to Pursue Competing Building-Height Initiative After All

The vote to reverse last week's decision comes after Santa Barbara Councilman Roger Horton exercised his right to put the item back up for reconsideration.

In a rare reversal, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted to begin the process of putting a measure on the ballot that would compete with a citizen-driven initiative that a year from now will ask voters to significantly lower the height limits of new buildings.

Supporters of the citizen initiative say it is necessary to maintain the city’s small-town charm, but critics say it’s overly simplistic, and likely to exacerbate the squeeze felt by the middle class in wealthy Santa Barbara.

Tuesday’s 4-2 vote pleased the critics, who believe that the city’s competing height initiative is a preferable compromise. The city’s initiative — which still must come to the council two more times to be officially ratified — also would lower height limits, but would make exceptions for developers whose projects include a large amount of housing that is affordable to the middle class.

The decision means that in the campaign leading to the next November election, voters could be courted by two competing camps seeking to lower the height limits for buildings.

The vote comes just one week after the council rejected the same compromise proposal. A day after the vote, Councilman Roger Horton had a change of heart, and exercised his right to put the item back on the table for reconsideration. (By law, council members who voted with the majority have 24 hours to make such a request.)

“The situation for work force in our community is bad and getting worse,” Horton said Tuesday. “People must commute long distances, which means they are away from their families for long hours.”

Horton added that he has long felt that the best forum for the discussions about building height, structure setbacks and affordable housing has been the ongoing process to update the general plan. But he said after recent discussions with city staff, he’s convinced that process can’t be completed before the end of 2009.

“I remain optimistic that with our full commitment to find the best possible solution for our community, we can find a compromise position that will satisfy most of us,” he said.

As it stands now, buildings in the commercial zones of Santa Barbara can be 60 feet high. The citizen initiative calls for lowering the limit to 40 feet in the historic downtown area and 45 feet in the rest of the city.

The competing initiative, brought to the council by Councilman Das Williams, is considered a compromise, limiting the height to 45 feet, but allowing developers to go as high as 60 feet when they go well above and beyond on affordable housing. “Above and beyond” would be defined as any project in which the developer builds twice the amount of affordable housing required by city law. Currently, city ordinances require developers of projects with at least 10 units to set aside 15 percent of them for middle-class families.

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