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AUD Program, Short-Term Rental Regulations Top Santa Barbara Planners’ To-Do List

City Council and Planning Commission met Thursday to work out priorities for the city’s busy planning division

The Average-Unit Density Program, marijuana business regulations, short-term vacation rentals, development impact fees: What reads as a list of Santa Barbara’s most contentious and debated issues is also part of the to-do list of a single office at City Hall, the planning division.

On Thursday, members of the City Council and the Planning Commission met to prioritize the major work efforts of the busy branch of the Community Development Department.

With each member providing input on a laundry list of big-time projects and undertakings, the consensus was that planners’ priorities should revolve around the AUD Program, short-term rentals and a response to new state rules regarding second dwelling units at residential properties.

Though it’s the council and commission who make the decisions, it’s the planning division that compiles the research that the two bodies base their decisions on, and that drafts the regulations.

The AUD program is meant to encourage the development of smaller, more-affordable workforce housing that is close to public transit, commercial services and parks in a city with a dearth of rental housing and a high cost of living.

The ordinance’s complexity, scope and the neighborhood-compatibility concerns raised by neighbors of proposed developments have all caused the program to be discussed often by the City Council, which initiated a task force in December to study how the program can be tweaked to better achieve its goals. 

The task force — composed of three council members, three planning commissioners and the head of the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara, and powered by planning staff — is looking at the option of requiring an extra parking spot for AUD project units with three bedrooms, levying impact fees as a method of slowing and shaping the onslaught of development proposals, and lowering the target income range for AUD projects to 80-120 percent of the area’s median income, down from 120 to 200 percent.

Also proposed is metering the flood of new AUD projects with an annual unit cap.

Advocated most passionately by Councilman Bendy White, city leaders are studying a 100-unit limit on the number of AUD units that can be approved each year. The figure is based on what officials say is the historic average number of units completed each year.

While White and many residents skeptical of the AUD program are hopeful that the council can bypass the task force by mustering five votes to pass the cap, others have balked at the idea of slowing the creation of much-needed workforce housing.

“The 100 units are not enough. We’re in a housing crisis,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said Thursday.

Planning staff have said that with so few AUD projects built, there is not enough data yet to determine whether local workers will be the new apartments’ primary tenants.

City leaders also want to work out new regulations for short-term rentals, which are regulated by the city ordinance governing hotels.

Several council members and commissioners characterized the current set-up as fitting a square peg into a round hole, and considered STRs to be their own category somewhere in between homes and hotels.

Officials are concerned that a lack of “regulatory certainty,” as Commissioner Deborah Schwartz put it, would drive the already difficult-to-regulate industry underground.

Another worry is that any uncertainty in the rules could be clarified in court. In November, the owner of an STR company sued the city, claiming that Santa Barbara’s ban on STRs in many zoning districts violates local and state policies.

City Hall is also eager to get a jump on new state rules regarding second dwelling units in single- and multi-family residential zones.

On Jan. 1, legislation went into effect that supersedes cities’ rules governing the approval of what the state calls accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny units.”

Lawmakers declared ADUs a vital part of California’s effort to meet its housing needs, and their legislation is intended reduce barriers to and streamline approval of ADUs.

Cities’ own ADU rules were voided if they didn’t meet the state’s new requirements, and until they come up with ordinances that comply, ADUs have to be approved or denied based on the new laws.

One of the most agreed-on issues at Thursday’s joint meeting was the expedited development of a new ADU ordinance.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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