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Santa Barbara ABR Finally Gives OK to Eastside High-Density Housing Project

Developer, architect redesign the project at 835 Canon Perdido Street to scale back size of development

A redesigned high-density housing project on Santa Barbara’s Eastside won approval from the city’s Architectural Board of Review this week after the architect reduced the size and redesigned the project. Click to view larger
A redesigned high-density housing project on Santa Barbara’s Eastside won approval from the city’s Architectural Board of Review this week after the architect reduced the size and redesigned the project. (Contributed)

In a dramatic turnaround, the developer behind a controversial high-density housing project on Santa Barbara's Eastside won approval from the Architectural Board of Review this week after the architect reduced the size and redesigned the project.

It was the seventh "concept review" meeting for the proposal at 835 E. Canon Perdido St. before the ABR — and the final one, if it didn't get support.

The developer, Andrew Fuller, said he would take the project directly to the City Council if he couldn't win support before the ABR. Instead, members of the ABR gushed over architect Detty Peikert's redesign of the project.

The vote was 6-1 in favor, with only board member David Watkins voting no.

He too was supportive, however, voting "no" on a technicality because one of his minor design suggestions was rejected by board chairman Kirk Gradin as part of the final motion. 

The changes included: 

» A reduced density from 50 units to 41.

» Eliminating the podium parking garage in favor of a robotic stacked parking. 

» Created a large 4,500-ssquare-foot ground-level open space.

» Reduced the number of three-story units at the perimeter of the project from 11 to 4, thereby dramatically reducing the visual mass of the building.

» Changed the architectural style from art deco to Santa Barbara Spanish Mediterranean 

» Reduced the height to the eves from 38 feet to 34 feet.

» Created more privacy for the residential homes to the west of the project by increasing the setbacks to the second- and third-story elements

» Added five additional parking spaces over and above the 41 required by the AUD ordinance.

"Our goal was simply to address all of the issues that were raised by members of the board and the public, and design a project that everyone, including the developer, could support moving forward," Peikert said. "We were very pleased with the positive response of the ABR members and the public to the revised design."

One of the projects biggest critics, ABR member Howard Wittausch, embraced the development.

"You have my respect," Wittausch said. "It totally transforms the site. This is a very skillful manipulation of forms. I think it is very Santa Barbara."

He went on: "It's all great. It's all great."

The project was caught amid the turmoil of the city’s Average Unit-Sized Density Incentive Program, which was approved by the City Council in 2013. The program was designed to encourage developers to build rental apartments.

Since the cost of land is so expensive in Santa Barbara, developers went decades building high-end luxury condos because apartments didn’t pencil out financially. The city’s AUD program encourages developers to build high-density housing, allowing them to stack more units on a piece of land than would normally be allowed.

The program pitted community members against each other in a debate over whether the apartment projects are too dense for Santa Barbara and threatening its small-town charm and quality of life, or if they are providing necessary housing for workers. 

Peikert, however, showed that when a design board pushes back on a project, as it did over several meetings with this one, an architect and developer can work together to redesign something that fits within the character of the neighborhood.

Now that the concept review has been approved, the developer must submit a formal application to move ahead with official review. 

"Everyone sort of gains a little more privacy," said ABR member Amy Fitzgerald-Tripp. "I like it a lot."

Lisa La Placa, who voted against the project at a prior meeting, praised the new proposal.

"The project has taken a huge departure," she said. "It's beautiful."

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