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Santa Barbara Council Denies Appeal of Haley Street Affordable Housing Project

The size of the development raises concerns, with plans scheduled to go back to the Architectural Board of Review for final design approval

Businesses along Haley Street have appealed the proposed affordable housing project at 510 N. Salsipuedes St. over concerns of size, fire lane access and the city review process, and on Tuesday the Santa Barbara City Council took up the issue, ultimately denying the appeal.

The 40-unit, three-story project is being developed by Peoples’ Self-Help Housing Corp. and received some funding to buy the property from the city’s former Redevelopment Agency.

Architect Trevor Martinson appealed the Architectural Board of Review’s project approval on behalf of Haley Street businesses and property owners. The ABR reviewed the project three times to date, and it was the very first one under the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program.

That means it doesn’t have to be approved by the Planning Commission, unless the ABR requests it.

The project approval got a 3-2 vote, but it would have been 3-3 if member Howard Wittausch wasn’t absent that day, he told council members Tuesday.

The ABR did already require several changes — such as eliminating the fourth floor and cutting down the total number of units and size — due to neighborhood compatibility concerns.

Four ABR members spoke at Tuesday’s City Council appeal hearing and explained how the board was so divided.

Chairman Paul Zink said he supports high-density housing in that area, but the massing of the building concerns him.

Even though it’s not overly excessive in height according to rules, member Gary Mosel noted, it most likely would be by public perception.

Martinson said he was concerned about the overall size, bulk and scale of the building, which has a 7-foot setback from Haley Street for the first floor. He added that Catholic Charities’ administrative offices next door would probably have to relocate or change some of its solar paneling due to the taller project built next door.

All speakers acknowledged that the project will be a big change for the neighborhood, especially since its site is currently a vacant lot.

The L-shaped development includes on-site parking, a 3,300-square-foot community center, and all affordable housing units, which is targeted at people earning 60 percent or less of the median area income.

A two-bedroom unit for someone earning 50 percent of the median income is expected to go for $896 per month, project architect Detty Peikert said.

Peikert also designed the Arlington Village project, which is the second AUD ordinance project that the ABR reviewed and was also appealed to the City Council. There are concerns that the ABR is asked to review things outside their fields of expertise, like parking, although it can ask to have projects approved by the Planning Commission.

Members weren’t aware of that at the time of these projects, some said Tuesday.

Peikert said the project is “appropriately scaled for a neighborhood in transition.”

The City Council voted 6-1 to deny the appeal, even though several had concerns about the size of the buildings. The project will still go back to the ABR for final design approval, as usual.

Councilman Dale Francisco voted against the motion, wanting to instead send the design back to ABR for further changes and to reduce the Haley Street side of the building from three to two stories tall.

Other council members partly agreed with him, but weren’t willing to delay the project past its March deadline to get financing.

Councilman Randy Rowse also noted that he wants to reassure the community that the city won’t be approving a “monolith” for every potential vacant property just because of the new ordinance.

By definition, the average unit-size density buildings are going to be larger, which Francisco said he wasn’t enthusiastic about.

Councilman Grant House said this project follows the city’s ordinance and General Plan, and is the opportunity for the city to get an affordable housing project right.

Mayor Helene Schneider agreed, saying the city decided in its policies that this is the part of town and type of housing that “we want to see.”

“This is going to be a change to the neighborhood, but I think it’s going to be a positive change,” she said, adding that to send it back to ABR with concerns about its size would give the wrong message about the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program.

There is a vacancy rate of 1 percent in Santa Barbara and anything below 5 percent is unhealthy, said Rob Fredericks, deputy executive director of the city’s Housing Authority.

More than 7,000 households are on the city’s Section 8 housing waitlist, and most city residents pay well above 30 percent of their income for housing, which is the threshold for “affordable” housing, he said.

The vacancy rate also hurts people transitioning back from homelessness, Transition House Executive Director Kathleen Baushke said during public comment. The majority of families and individuals in the programs are ready and have the savings to move into a home, but can’t find open rental housing in such a flooded market, she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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