Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 6:43 pm | Fair 71º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Review Board Tells Developer to Make Changes to 50-Unit Santa Barbara Housing Project

A controversial 50-unit, high-density housing project proposed on Santa Barbara’s Eastside remains in limbo after the Architectural Board of Review failed to reach agreement on the proposal.

The board, which has a vacancy, split in a 3-3 vote on the project at 835 E. Canon Perdido Street. The applicant team will go back to the board again in September.

The average size of the project’s units — which include studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments — is 633 square feet. The proposal calls for 10-foot high ceilings on the second and third floors, where some of the units are only 460 square feet in size. 

The three board members who objected to the design — Howard Wittausch, Lisa La Placa and David Watkins — wanted to see the ceiling heights on the second and third floors lowered to 9 feet, and the overall size of the building reduced. 

It was the sixth ABR review for the project, on top of a Planning Commission hearing, and developer Andrew Fuller and architect Detty Peikert were visibly frustrated with the project dissenters.

Peikert said the panel kept “moving the goal post” and Fuller said the delays in approval were “crushing” the finances of the project.

“This is getting extremely expensive,” Fuller said.

Peikert at one point asked the board to deny the project so that his team could appeal and take the proposal to the full City Council for a vote.

He backed down, however, when Fuller said “we will give it one more shot.”

The developer has been reluctant to lower the height of the units down to 9 feet because it would also mean he would have to make the windows smaller, reducing the amount of natural light into the building. 

Wittausch and others said that the developer wants 10-foot ceilings to use as a “marketing” tactic, to mask the fact that some of the units are about 460 square feet.

The project is caught amid the turmoil of the city’s Average Unit-Sized Density Incentive Program, which was approved by the City Council in 2013. The program was designed to encourage developers to build rental apartments.

Since the cost of land is so expensive in Santa Barbara, developers went decades building high-end luxury condos because apartments didn’t pencil out financially.

The city’s AUD program allows developer to build high-density housing, allowing them to stack more units on a piece of land than would normally be allowed.

It has also pitted community members against each other in a debate over whether the apartment projects are too dense for Santa Barbara and threatening its small-town charm and quality of life, or if they are providing necessary housing for workers. 

Lisa Plowman, project manager for RRM Design, said the Canon Perdido project provides housing that is needed.

“We don’t provide sufficient housing for the workers in our community,” Plowman said. “That has been something historically a problem in Santa Barbara. It is called a jobs-housing imbalance.”

Steve Hayes, managing partner of Hayes Commercial Group, which has 16 employees, supported the project and said it is what Santa Barbara needs.

“The apartment stock is very old,” he said. “Running a company, dealing with it every day, there’s a clear demand for this type of product.”

But neighborhood activist Anne Marie Gott disagreed. She said there’s no guarantee that a high-density project will be affordable. The 10-foot ceilings drive up the cost of the project, she said. 

“You have a great marketing tool,” Gott said. “You can talk about these great 10-foot ceilings. If the AUD is supposed to be about providing housing affordable for our workforce we need to find a way to ensure it is affordable.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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