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Santa Barbara Forming Task Force to Address Questions About Average Unit Density Program

City wants to know how much workforce housing is being created by the program and what the parking impacts are

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted to create a task force to look into the impacts, and discuss potential changes to, the city’s Average Unit Density Program for residential development. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted to create a task force to look into the impacts, and discuss potential changes to, the city’s Average Unit Density Program for residential development.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara is developing a task force to address the implementation and impacts of the Average Unit Density Program.

The AUD program, technically a city ordinance, was established in 2013 to encourage the development of smaller, more-affordable workforce housing that is close to public transit, commercial services and parks in a city with a dearth of rental housing and a high cost of living.

The ordinance’s complexity, scope and the neighborhood-compatibility concerns raised by neighbors of proposed developments have all caused the program to be discussed often by the City Council, which voted Tuesday to initiate the task force.

The AUD program, city planner Renee Brooke said, “is so far largely meeting its objectives.”

It has encouraged smaller units and is locating those units closer to city amenities, she said, but there’s not enough data available to determine whether it will be supply housing for the local workforce.

The housing task force was originally the idea of the city Planning Commission, and the City Council directed it to include three council members, three planning commissioners and a Santa Barbara Housing Authority commissioner.

Council members Cathy Murillo, Jason Dominguez and Bendy White offered to join the task force, while the other positions will be decided by the respective commissions that would fill them.

“All interested parties” — namely, various housing organizations, design review boards, developers and realtors — will be notified about the task force’s meetings so they can join in on its conversations, according to the city.

The task force was recommended to look into concepts including employer-sponsored housing and limited-equity cooperatives, and consider options for requiring affordable units.

One of the council’s biggest AUD concerns, and one it directed the task force to examine, was potential parking impacts imposed by new developments. Currently, the program requires a minimum of one spot per unit.

City planning staff said that while mandating more spaces per unit would take cars off parking-saturated streets, it could limit the size and density of units and increase the costs of housing projects.

To begin addressing some of those issues, the council formally relayed to the Planning Commission its interest in the commission expanding its AUD reviews to include guidelines capping the number of bathrooms in AUD units to two, and that units with three or more bedrooms be provided with two parking spaces.

Despite the flood of AUD development applications, which add up to well over 1,000 units in the development pipeline, the program isn’t indefinite. Its trial period ends once 250 units in two of its categories — high-density residential and priority housing overlay areas — have received their certificates of occupancy.

Right now, Brooke said, 151 units under those two categories are under construction and 164 units have been approved.

City staff expect the 250 mark to be reached in about two years, and said an amendment to the ordinance would be needed to plan for after the trial period. 

Also on Tuesday’s agenda was some personnel restructuring at the Santa Barbara Police Department.

With the council’s approval, the position of deputy chief will be eliminated, with its duties split up between chief of police, the three police captains, the police business manager and the newly created public engagement manager.

The new position would conduct public outreach initiatives and promote police-community relations, according to the SBPD. 

Sgt. Riley Harwood, the SBPD’s current public information officer, said the department will now begin the hiring process for the new position.

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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