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Local News

Santa Barbara Review Board Calls for Shorter High-Density Project on East Canon Perdido

Majority of Architectural Review Board says 10-foot-tall ceilings are a 'luxury' and should be lowered at proposed 50-unit, 3-story complex

A proposed three-story apartment building is depicted in a view down East Canon Perdido from Milpas Street. Members of the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review have told the developer that the 50-unit complex is too tall for their preference. Click to view larger
A proposed three-story apartment building is depicted in a view down East Canon Perdido from Milpas Street. Members of the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review have told the developer that the 50-unit complex is too tall for their preference. (RRM Design Group illustration)

The proposal for a high-density, 50-unit apartment project near Santa Barbara High School encountered a setback at a recent Architectural Board of Review meeting when a majority of the panel said the height of the three-story building should be lowered.

“I have strong concerns about this building being too high, unnecessarily,” ABR member Howard Wittausch said. “I do feel this building is about three feet too high.

“I am very concerned about the occupants of this building being so privileged over other occupants in the city.”

The project, the latest under Santa Barbara’s controversial Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program, is proposed for 835 E. Canon Perdido, near the Milpas Street intersection. It’s on the site of the former McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams’ Old Dairy facility, about a block away from the southeast corner of the Santa Barbara High campus.

The developers would like to demolish 17,200 square feet of one- and two-story commercial and industrial buildings in favor of a structure with 26 two-bedroom units, four one-bedroom units and 20 studio units.

Architect Detty Peikert of RRM Design Group repeatedly asked the ABR for preliminary design approval of the project, but the board wouldn’t budge. A majority said the building was too tall, and called for other design changes, including varying the design of the building’s parapets and enhancing its art-deco character.

Peikert and Lisa Plowman, an RRM Design Group planning manager, were noticeably annoyed at the July 17 meeting.

“We’d like to get design approval so we can develop the design further,” Peikert said. “We don’t want to wait another month or so to address a couple of relatively minor issues.”

For Wittausch, who led the charge over the building’s height, the issues were not minor, however.

“I think the plate-to-plate height is too high and it is making this building a little too overwhelming,” he said. “I think the 10-foot-ceilings is a luxury. It is what drove Chapala One and I don’t think it needs to drive this project.”

ABR member David Watkins agreed.

“In terms of the context of the neighborhood, it overwhelms,” he said.

Board chairman Kirk Gradin said he felt it was “inappropriate” for the board to call for a reduction of the 10-foot-tall ceilings since the session was the fourth concept review and the building’s height had not specifically come up yet.

Gradin and Wittausch got into a testy exchange at the meeting when Gradin tried to cut off Wittausch during the deliberations.

“I think you have been doing enough talking,” Wittausch told Gradin. “We have the right to comment about the height until we give preliminary design approval.”

Peikert and his firm must now try to lower the height of the building and make the other design changes before returning to the ABR in August.

Since Santa Barbara approved the AUD program in 2013 as a way to encourage developers to build apartments and affordable housing, the city has seen a flurry of proposals, many of which have rankled the community.

The city has approved 317 of the medium- and high-density units, with 470 more in the pipeline. So far, 165 building permits have been issued under the AUD program.

The residential apartment boom has sparked wide community debate over growth and development. Supporters say the projects appeal to younger workers who want to live near downtown and prefer to rent rather than own.

Critics contend the projects never provide enough parking spaces for the number of residents living in them, and that the additional people and units strain water resources while adding to traffic congestion.

Community activist Christine Neuhauser, who spoke at the ABR meeting, also wants to see the East Canon Perdido project reduced in size.

“We are doomed to lose Santa Barbara and its attraction if we do not reassess and slow down and limit the size of these projects,” she said. “The result is a loss of mountain views, increasing demand for parking and daily traffic congestion, that will create a city that is unknown to its local inhabitants.

“These complexes are not affordable housing that the local working population can sustain.”

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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