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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 4:05 am | Fair 43º


Santa Barbara Design Board Naysays Four-Story Rental Housing Project

Architectural Board of Review members send 15-unit Cota Street project back to the drawing board after criticizing its size

The Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review rebuked a proposal Monday night to build rental housing project downtown near the corner of Anacapa and Cota streets in Santa Barbara.
The Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review rebuked a proposal Monday night to build rental housing project downtown near the corner of Anacapa and Cota streets in Santa Barbara.  ((Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo))

A proposal to build a 58-foot-tall rental housing project in downtown Santa Barbara between Plaza Vera Cruz and The French Press hit a wall Monday afternoon.

The Architectural Board of Review hammered the proposal. The members said it was too big, too tall and could cast a shadow over the parkgoers below.

“My gut feeling is I think this building is too big for this site,” board member Howard Wittausch said.

“I don’t think this is the right location. I think a 58-foot-high building is going to be overwhelming.”

The proposal is the latest in a frenzy of average unit-size density program proposals designed to let developers have more units on a lot in exchange for building rental units.

Santa Barbara’s middle class has been squeezed out of the city to places such as Ventura, Lompoc, Buellton and Santa Maria, while the city has seen an influx of tech-driven transplants from Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area and other large metropolitan areas.

The city is trying to partner with developers to save its middle class and provide more housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income workers who largely serve the city’s tourist industry.

Santa Barbara has approved 173 of the AUD units so far, but nothing has been constructed yet. This project calls for 15 two-bedroom, two-bathroom residential units and approximately 832 square feet of commercial space.

The site would have 16 covered parking spaces on the ground level. The residential units will be on the second, third, and fourth floors, along with a 3,238 square foot roof deck that could contain a garden.

If the project were to go forward, the Planning Commission would need to designate the project as a Community Benefit Housing Project because the building is taller than 45 feet. 

The project’s architect Clay Aurell, of AB Design Studios, said the building’s height is necessary because of the need for affordable rental housing. Each floor would be 12 feet high.

“If we get some volume out of the building it makes the units more livable,” Aurell said. The architect said that “urban environments” tend to have tall buildings. 

“We are anticipating this being highly walkable,” Aurell said. “I think over time we are going to see the southern part of this block go through a transformation.”

The site sits at 118 East Cota St., next to a driveway on one side, a mattress store, and The French Press coffee shop. Residents would have to turn right from Cota Street to enter the housing project, which would face the Plaza Vera Cruz park.

The location of the rentals also concerned the ABR members. Some of the members said the nearly 60-foot building would block the sun and cast an inordinate amount of shade and shadows over the park most of the day.

Aurell said he designed the units to face the park to give residents a view of the park and mountains. He said that he didn’t want to design the units facing the other direction because “someone could build up the French Press site and destroy the views.”

Former mayor and current Planning Commissioner Sheila Lodge spoke at the meeting to oppose the building’s size. She said the AUD program is an experiment, but that this is the first project to request a building height above 45 feet. 

“We don’t know yet if when these rentals get on the market if they will even be less expensive,” Lodge said. 

After stating their unanimous comments, the members of the ABR told developers Cota Street, LLC and the architect to keep working on project and return with changes when they are ready.

“The building feels a bit looming,” ABR member Courtney Jane Miller said.

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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