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Proposal for Four-Story Mixed-Use Project in Downtown Santa Barbara Raises Concern

Members of the city Planning Commission question the housing density and its compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood

Santa Barbara planning commissioners have concerns about a four-story rental housing project proposed for the corner of Santa Barbara and De la Guerra streets.
Santa Barbara planning commissioners have concerns about a four-story rental housing project proposed for the corner of Santa Barbara and De la Guerra streets. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A proposed four-story mixed-use development project for a high-profile corner of downtown Santa Barbara has been met with wide disapproval by the members of the city's Planning Commission.

Architect Jan Hochhauser presented a conceptual plan at last Thursday's Planning Commission for the corner of Santa Barbara and De la Guerra streets. The proposal calls for the demolition of a 1,965-square-foot, one-story building and replace it with a 26,059-square-foot, four-story mixed-use building.

The project would include 1,500 square feet of commercial floor area, 26 residential units and 30 underground parking spaces.

"This is a great project, but it would be better in a different location," said Addison Thompson, chairman of the city's Planning Commission. "It has to be sensitive to the historical context that's immediately adjacent to the project."

The proposal at 800 Santa Barbara St. is near the El Presido de Santa Barbara Historic Park and near the Santa Barbara Unified School District administrative office. 

"You are in one of the most sensitive spots in the city next to the origins of the city, so we can't ignore that," Thompson said. 

The commissioners felt the project was too big for the site and not compatible with the surrounding area. Some commissioners were unhappy with the fourth story and the possibility that it would block mountain views.

Hochhauser did not present an architecture rendering of the project to the planning commission, nor were story poles erected since it was presented as a "concept review" only.

The proposal is located in the historic El Pueblo Viejo District. The property owner already has an approved project for the site, but it is smaller — a three-story building, with six condos, instead of the more dense rental housing project now proposed.

The city's Historic Landmarks Commission is the decision-maker on the project and will work with Hochhauser and the property owner on the new proposal.

Commissioner Deborah Schwartz said she appreciated the rental housing aspect of the new project, rather than the "luxury condos" already approved, but still has concerns.

"We have a dire need for rental housing, the question is in a city that is 90 percent built out where can we find that real estate and where can it be appropriately applied," Schwartz said. "I am hoping for something positive as it goes back to the HLC."

Hochhauser said at the end of the meeting that he didn't get clear enough feedback on what specifically to do to make the project more compatible.

"I had hoped we would have gotten a little bit more specific feedback on where to go," said Hochhauser, adding that he's looking forward to working with the HLC to improve the project.

Commissioner June Pujo said "more than a little bit of change" is required.

"There is too much massing and it is too bulky, and it doesn't respect El Pueblo Viejo to the extent that it needs to," Pujo said. "The bigger issue to me is the sense of place for this very key historic downtown area." 

Commissioner Michael Jordan said the project needs to have "spot-on" architecture that fits in with the historic properties in the area.

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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