Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 2:12 pm | Fair 72º

 
 
 
 

Controversial Mixed-Use High-Density Haley Housing Project Proposed Next to The Mill

Owners of The Mill want to expand Santa Barbara development with 28-unit rental apartment project

A proposal to build a 28-unit rental apartment project for young workers on the corner of Haley and Laguna streets has focused a spotlight on the city’s high-density housing program, in one of the Santa Barbara’s busiest commercial zones. Click to view larger
A proposal to build a 28-unit rental apartment project for young workers on the corner of Haley and Laguna streets has focused a spotlight on the city’s high-density housing program, in one of the Santa Barbara’s busiest commercial zones. (Contributed)

A proposal to build a 28-unit rental apartment project for young workers on the corner of Haley and Laguna streets has focused a spotlight on the city’s high-density housing program, in one of the Santa Barbara’s busiest commercial zones.

The owners of The Mill, Darrell and Kirsten Becker, have proposed the project across the street from their marketplace, which contains a production winery and tasting bar, a craft brewery and tap room, a restaurant and an event center.

About 13 different businesses occupy The Mill.

“We are humbled and excited to have this opportunity,” Kirsten Becker said at a recent Santa Barbara Planning Commission meeting. “We have a young staff, and they have no rentals so that is a part of it, too.”

Darrell Becker added that it always was his intention to provide affordable housing.

“We think we have a great project, and we would love all of your support,” Darrell Becker said.

The three-story, 38-foot-tall project includes 14 two-bedrooms, 9 one-bedrooms and 5 studio apartments.

The bottom floor would include commercial space for retail and a coffee shop. The project also calls for a 53-space parking garage, with 11 set aside for employees of The Mill, who have trouble finding parking spaces when they go to work.

The rest include 15 for the commercial/retail customers and 28 spaces for the residents. The residential parking is intended to consist of a stacked design, where an automated system would stack cars on multiple levels.

The current site is made up of two single-story commercial buildings, a residential duplex and one single-family home. All of those structures will be torn down.

“We are really excited about the opportunities of this project,” said architect Mark Kirkhart. “We think this has an opportunity to be a really great enhancement to the Haley Street Corridor.”

Story poles show where a proposed 28-unit rental apartment project would be built on the corner of Haley and Laguna streets in Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Story poles show where a proposed 28-unit rental apartment project would be built on the corner of Haley and Laguna streets in Santa Barbara. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The apartments are expected to rent, in today’s dollars, for somewhere between $1,400 and $2,200 a month.

“It’s basically affordable by design, which is basically the goal of AUD in the first place,” Kirkhart said.

Darrell Becker said “the tenant profile is going to be young, working professionals who may or may not have a car.”

“This is not a low-income housing proposition by any standard,” Becker said, adding that it would cost about $15 million to build the project.

The project is the latest in a wave of high-density residential apartment projects rapidly reshaping the look of Santa Barbara.

The city created the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program to encourage developers to build rental apartments, which presumably would be more affordable for middle- and lower-income residents. For decades, developers only built for-sale condos because with the high cost of land in Santa Barbara, they were money losers as rentals.

The proposal worked. Since 2013, developers have been attempting to cash in on the incentive program, and large rental apartment projects are popping up all over town.

The city has approved projects for a total of 317 medium- and high-density units, with 470 more in the pipeline. The city has issued 165 building permits under the AUD program so far.

Santa Barbara has a rental vacancy rate below 0.5 percent.

While Santa Barbara is getting what it wanted — more rental apartment housing — the size and number of the developments have sparked opposition from preservationists and environmentalists who worry that Santa Barbara is inching more and more toward looking like a large metropolitan area like Los Angeles.

Several Santa Barbara residents are coming out against the size of the project.

“The project is out of scale and incompatible with the neighborhood of older one- and two-story buildings,” Christine Neuhauser said. “Santa Barbara fought valiantly for years to keep big box stores out of the city, yet under the guise of mixed-use AUD projects, the city is destined to be littered with big box apartment complexes.

"Why is this happening? We implore you to prevent this diminishing of the city’s greatest resource.”

Ursula O’Neill, who owns a catering business near the project, said the development would dramatically change the character of the neighborhood. The story poles, she said,  actually intersect with a tree on her property.

“This will really impact my building,” she said. “The story poles are within one inch of my wall. They are also going through the trees.”

Local resident Michele Bunker supports the project.

“I am currently trying to find housing and having a lot of difficulty doing so,” Bunker said. “Most of the residents in Santa Barbara who are renting have the same problem. Most of the housing has turned into a room in a house because it’s hard to find a space for yourself that is affordable in this town.”

She said the new project would benefit more people than it would hurt.

“Maybe blocking the views for one home, but you are also going to get views for 28 different places,” Bunker said. “Any sort of building in this town is going to affect the people around it, but I think that this is a very beautiful project, and especially in that area that is really up and coming. I think it is really awesome to have an housing unit in that area of town.”

Some members of the Planning Commission and the public raised questions about the mountain views that could be blocked for pedestrians and bicyclists who frequent the area.

“I am significantly concerned about the pedestrian and cycling experience near this building,” said Commissioner Leslie Wiscomb. “People expect the mountain views in Santa Barbara and expect them in this area, and that building will block them. “

She said the project “really interferes with the beauty of walking Santa Barbara. You no longer see the mountains. They are gone.”

Commissioner Deborah Schwartz said the need for more housing was what was most important about the project.

“We continue to be in a housing crisis, we don’t have a crunch, we are in a crisis,” Schwartz said. “We have to double down on finding all of the right balance. I am hoping that tenants who move in here don’t have cars or don’t need to take their cars to work every day.”

Schwartz said the area is not a place where people gaze at the mountains.

“I don’t see anyone driving leisurely, slowly looking around at the beautiful vistas,” Schwartz said. “This is not that neighborhood. This is not that area of our community where this occurs. It is an interesting neighborhood. It has wonderful qualities it is attractive in other ways.”

Commissioner Michael Jordan acknowledged the view from that area, but said the spot is not a gathering place for mountain observers.

“This is a commercial working corridor that has been blessed with a view that is going to get taken away, but it doesn’t rise to the scale of an important public view or a scenic public vista that is important either,” Jordan said.

Commissioner John Campanella was more blunt:

“Every street that you go down heading toward the mountains you will have some type of blockage, but you also could just go on the other side of the street or go down a block if you really want to see the views,” Campanella said. “I don’t think these are important vistas.”

Last Thursday’s planning commission meeting was a concept review, where the commission gave feedback on the project. Despite concerns about the views and mass, bulk and scale of the project, most of the commissioners felt the rental housing was the most important part of the project.

Commissioner Jordan said going forward he hopes this area and other manufacturing zones retain their original purpose.

“We have not done a good job as a city worrying about where these service businesses are going or where these are going to relocate,” Jordan said. “ Are we going to look up in 5 or 10 years and you are going to need a repairman or a new set of tires and you got to drive to Ventura. And I think it is unfortunate.”

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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