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Latest Mixed-Use Project Joins the Ranks of 4-Story AUD Proposals in Santa Barbara

Yet another four-story development project under the city of Santa Barbara’s Average Unit Density program has begun making its way down the planning pipeline.

Its first stop,  on Monday, was the city’s Architectural Board of Review, which held a concept design review for the project planned for 3891 State St, on the corner of La Cumbre Road.

The ABR, which was not required to vote on it or provide its explicit approval, spoke highly of the project, but harbored concerns over its modern style, which contrasts with Santa Barbara’s traditional Spanish colonial style, and the sheer size of a development on a prominent city corner.

In order to build the development, the owner, Watabun USA, Inc., is demolishing the two-story Galleria building that is already on the 1.36-acre lot.

The mixed-use development is to feature 11,000 square feet of new commercial space as well as 85 residential units, which will average just over 800 square feet each. The apartments will be divided up into 12 one-bedroom units, 68 two-bedroom units, and five three-bedroom units.

In addition to 126 underground residential parking spaces and 66 ground-floor commercial ones, the development will feature a roof deck with a swimming pool and a bike parking spot for each unit. A restaurant is planned for the corner where State Street meets La Cumbre Road.

A traffic study determined that there would be no significant impact on vehicle movement, said Mark Kirkhart of DesignARC and Greg Reitz of REthink Development, who presented the project. An acoustic study to examine the effects of ambient noise is planned, they said.

The project, said Kirkhart and Reitz, will be an aesthetic “cousin” of the still-under-construction 89-unit development next door that they had worked on as well.

“I like the project. I like the concept,” said board member Howard Wittausch. “I think it’s the appropriate project for this location. It adds to everything else that goes on in this corner.”

“On the whole, I think this is a really good project for this site and is very intelligently designed,” said board member Scott Hopkins.

The main sticking point for the board, however, was the modern design.

“It’s a handsome design that would look well anywhere, and you would see buildings like this just about anywhere around the world,” said Sheila Lodge, a Santa Barbara planning commissioner who spoke during public comment only as an individual. “But this is Santa Barbara. And this is a major entrance to the city.”

“There’s no question that this is expert design, but I think it can be substantially improved in terms of its impact and massing and scale and relation to the neighborhood and to our city,” said board chairman Kirk Gradin.

Gradin and board member Thiep Cung expressed concern over the sheer mass of the project and how it pushed size and unit-density limits on such a prominent parcel of land.

The development is to house residents at density of 63 dwelling units per acre — the maximum allowed under the “Commercial/High Residential” designation the area falls under in the city’s general plan.

The plan regulates, in part, what kind of development is allowed in different city zones as well as how dense residential developments can be.

The city’s AUD program, created by an ordinance approved in 2013, is 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 and more affordable housing near commercial services, parks, and public transit.

As of last month, 209 units have been approved under the program, while 337 are pending.

After it passes the city’s routine regulatory check-ups, the project will have a date with the city Planning Commission and a project review with the ABR.

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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