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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 5:26 am | Fair 46º


Santa Barbara ABR Bristles at Apartment Project On Small Lot

Project architect, developer say proposed building meets requirements of Average Unit Density Program

A proposed 4-story apartment building at 715 Bond Ave. in Santa Barbara drew a testy response this week from the city’s Architectural Board of Review.
A proposed 4-story apartment building at 715 Bond Ave. in Santa Barbara drew a testy response this week from the city’s Architectural Board of Review. (Wabi Sabi Architecture rendering)

A property owner and architect walked into a Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review meeting this week and proposed this for where a single-family house now sits on the Eastside:

» A four-story, 44-foot-high building

» Seven units

» 24 bedrooms combined

» A bottom floor containing seven parking spaces

» A rusted steel facade, instead of stucco

Members of the ABR were not buying it.

"It's too big," said board member Scott Hopkins. "The five-story elevator tower is an insult to the neighborhood. It's maxed out in every way possible, including the bedroom count."

But if you ask property owner Monica Elias Calles-Gonzalez and her architect, Terry Irwin of Wabi Sabi Architecture, they have proposed a project at 715 Bond Ave. that fits 100 percent within the city's planning rules.

The city's planning department agrees.

Calles-Gonzales and Irwin have proposed a project that complies with the city's Average Unit Density Incentive Program, an ordinance that allows developers to build smaller, more affordable housing units, within walking and biking distance to jobs and parks. 

The ABR was disappointed with the development team's attempt to build out to the limits of the ordinance, even sparking a tense verbal exchange between Irwin and board member Courtney Jane Miller.

"Do you feel that the mass, bulk and scale of the project is appropriate for the neighborhood considering most of the other buildings are one story," Jane Miller asked.

Taken aback, Irwin responded: "Are you allowed to ask me that question?"

Miller retorted: "I just did ask you that question."

Irwin shot back: "Are you asking me my professional opinion?"

"I am," Jane Miller countered. 

After a deep, long breath, Irwin said this: 

"Let me answer this way. I read this AUD ordinance a dozen times and I still didn't understand it. I followed all of the guidelines in the ordinance. I am a professional designer. I followed the guidelines. I followed every rule."

Irwin at a couple points during the meeting shushed Calles-Gonzales, telling her "no, no, no" when she wanted to speak later in the meeting.

Despite the ABR's strong feelings about the project being wrong for the neighborhood, the proposal will likely put the AUD ordinance to the test.

On one hand, it provides rental housing, which board members acknowledged the city badly needs, but on the other it's a giant in the neighborhood.

Most of the other homes on the street are one-story, and ABR members fear that if this project is approved at four stories, nearly property line to property line, others will follow, creating a canyon-feel to the block.

Calles-Gonzalez said she expects young professionals to live in the building. At one point she showed the board photos of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg while trying to explain the type of people that would live there.

"They get together, they rent a unit, they share a kitchen," Calles-Gonzalez said. "It's how it works in Santa Barbara."

As part of the project, Irwin designed a rooftop garden area, where he envisioned a morning and evening Melrose Place-like rendezvous.

"I was able to create a really nice outdoor rooftop garden area," Irwin said. "A place where you can go up in the morning. I see this as a gathering spot for the neighbors — you got your buddy, you go up there and have coffee. You go up there on a hot night and you drink a bottle of wine."

Neighbors, however, don't share his vision of cheery urban nightlife. 

"I have major concerns about this apartment building," said Abbey Fragosa, adding that college students currently live at the house. "I see this creating major privacy concerns. "I can't even imagine what it would do to our neighborhood."

Nearby resident Maggie Munroe also objected to the building. Her backyard backs up to the property.

"A four-story building would block any sunlight I get," Munroe said. "It would certainly change my whole property. I think it would be too big for the area."

Board member Stephanie Poole said the proposal looked like a "European Housing project" and that "it doesn't have a very Santa Barbara feel to it."

Board chair Kirk Gradin and the rest of the seven-member board voted unanimously to tell the architect and the property owner to change the project.

"It's too massive for the neighborhood," Gradin said. "It's architecturally incompatible, both with the neighborhood and with Santa Barbara, in terms of its design. It needs to be studied and reduced."

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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