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4-Story Mixed-Use Housing Development Proposed for Milpas Street in Santa Barbara

Project is latest large project to come out of city’s Average Unit Density program, and has been seeking approval from city review commissions

A proposal for a four-story mixed-use development at 711 N. Milpas St. has been making its way through Santa Barbara’s regulatory pipeline, and made its latest stop Tuesday at the city’s Architectural Board of Review.

The 57,000-square-foot project proposes 31 two-bedroom, two-bathroom units; 31 one-bedroom, one-bathroom units; and nine two-bedroom, one-bathroom units.

The current design is of a modern-style building with an architecture that heavily utilizes square and block shapes.

The development was proposed under the city’s Average Unit Density program, which was established by a 2013 ordinance in response to the squeezing out of middle-class residents as higher-income, tech-oriented professionals flock to Santa Barbara.

The goal is to construct smaller units and more affordable housing near commercial services, parks, and public transit, and has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of proposed housing projects across the city.

Developers are proposing 94 parking spaces and 77 spots for bicycles at the site. Because 100 spaces are required for such a project, developers would need to seek a zoning modification from the city Planning Commission in order to remain at 94.

Two residential units and commercial buildings would be demolished in order to accommodate the development, which would be built behind Santa Barbara Junior High School.

The project received design approval from the ABR two weeks prior to its latest meeting with the board, though it still received comments and recommendations for how to improve on Tuesday.

Only three neighbors turned out for public comment, all agreed that the development — at least in its current form — was not suitable for the Eastside neighborhood.

The project is too large and imposing and too contemporary in style compared to the much smaller, Spanish colonial-style surrounding buildings, they said.

“It’s seems to me that it’s not even in keeping with Santa Barbara, and much less our area,” Naomi Green said. “Our area really is small mom-and-pop stores, it’s small homes for the most part. It’s not a McMansion zone, the Eastside.”

Another resident, Natasha Todoric, said, “Just because something is legal and just because it falls within the parameters of what we’re able to do, doesn’t mean it’s right for the neighborhood — doesn’t mean it’s a good project.” 

Though it’s too late to appeal the ABR’s design approval, city staff said, the final approval of the project, should it receive it, could still be appealed to the City Council.

In February, an 80,000-square-foot version of the project came before the ABR, which found its design generally favorable. In April, the Planning Commission also looked favorably upon the larger version during its AUD-mandated concept review.

As of June 30, there are 625 "high density/priority overlay" units and 120 "medium-high density area" units in the city planning process; four of the latter have already been constructed.

The number of Santa Barbara housing projects entering the pipeline have jumped considerably since the AUD program got rolling, prompting concern from a couple city council members.

Councilmen Bendy White and Jason Dominguez proposed in May a growth-management ordinance that would have limited the number of building permits issued each year, addressing the councilmen’s concerns of new developments’ water usage and their impacts on traffic, noise, and parking.

According to a memo from White and Dominguez, the normal housing growth rate is around 100 units per year and more than 1,300 units have entered the pipeline since August 2013 with the AUD program.

Their proposal’s associated development-mitigation fees would have helped pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvement, funds for which have increasingly fallen short of city needs.

The AUD program stipulates that after 250 high density/priority overlay units are ready for occupancy, existing developments are reviewed, halting any new development applications.

Note: Corrected figures were added  for the number of AUD units in the city's planning process.

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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