Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 5:21 pm | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara City Council Rejects Vacation-Rental Conversion Appeal

Max Mironov said he just couldn’t get anyone in Santa Barbara to rent his 1,081-square-foot home on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside.

The home at 812 Jennings Ave. would not rent for the $3,000 a month he advertised it for on Craigslist.

“People just don’t want to live there,” Mironov said. “It is really just not working as a single-family home.”

So last year, he turned it into a vacation rental.

On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council turned it back into a residential home.

The council voted 5-2, with Frank Hotchkiss and Randy Rowse opposed, to deny Mironov’s attempt to formally convert the home to a vacation rental.

The Architectural Board of Review denied the conversion in April, saying it was not “sound community planning.”

A majority of the council agreed that Santa Barbara’s housing crisis is so severe that the city cannot afford to lose a home for locals to a short-term stay by tourists.

Mironov wanted to create tandem parking at the site and the council also said that tandem-style won’t work on the street, which only parks on one side.

It was the second vacation rental denial by the council in as many weeks, and a sign that city leaders are working fiercely to stop vacation rental conversions in some parts of town.

“It’s one unit, but we’re short on housing,” said Councilman Jason Dominguez. “It’s a beautiful street. People who live there love living there. It’s a matter of doing what’s right for the people on the street."

Pedro Lopez, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe church, about a block away, urged the council to deny the vacation rental conversion.

He said the people who stay there are loud and take up lots of parking spaces on a street that is already heavily impacted.

“A number of people who came to rent the property were a nuisance,” Lopez said.

Housing activist Anna Marie Gott said out-of-town investors are buying Santa Barbara properties with the sole purpose of turning them into vacation rentals, which is displacing residents.

“If you really want to try to preserve our housing for our residents, a starter home for people who may not be able to afford a $2 million home, these small units are ideal for them.”

Santa Barbara’s rental vacancy rate is about 0.5 percent, and Gott and others believe that converting homes to vacation rentals exacerbates the problem.

Mironov was represented at the meeting by attorney John Thyne III, who attempted to frame the discussion as one about a single property, and not the broader issue of vacation rentals and affordable housing.

“I am not here today to advocate for all short-term vacation rentals in Santa Barbara,” Thyne said. “This is a site-specific appeal.”

He said that if the council agreed with the ABR to block the project, it would be tantamount to the council saying that no residence in the M-1 zone could be converted into a commercial entity.

“Please do not follow the ABR’s lead here and get caught up in the politics of short-term rentals," Thyne said. "Your actions today will only have an effect on 812 Jennings Avenue.”

Santa Barbara is struggling with a severe rental-housing crisis, and vacation rentals have emerged as one prong of the conversation.

In 2016, the city banned short-term vacation rentals in residential zones unless those areas also allow hotels. In those cases, homeowners seeking a vacation rental conversion must first get approval to convert their property to a commercial property.

The proposed Jennings Avenue conversion is in the M-1 Manufacturing Zone, and is surrounded by a mixture of commercial, industrial and apartment properties.

Jennings Avenue is a one-block road between Milpas and Nopal streets, a half-block east of Montecito Street.

Marco Farrell of Coldwell Banker, who represented the seller, spoke on behalf of Mironov.

He said the house was on the market for more than 200 days, and the price was lowered six times, closing 13.2 percent less than it was originally marketed for. According to zillow.com, the three-bedroom house sold for $685,000.

“The people of Santa Barbara were not interested in buying this home to live in,” Farrell said.

Mironov added that “the families in Santa Barbara had lots of opportunities to live in the home.”

Hotchkiss said it was unfair to block the property owner from converting the home to a vacation rental because he had followed all the rules and zoning for the area allows him to make the change.

“These people played by the rules,” Hotchkiss said. “They followed the rules. We should honor them.”

The meeting was punctuated by a testy exchange between council members Jason Dominguez and Cathy Murillo.

Dominguez said that the city’s Average Unit-sized Density Incentive Program, which allows developers to build high-density rental apartments on small lots, is actually hurting affordable housing because investors are buying homes, evicting residents, and building expensive apartments.

Dominguez, an attorney, said that when people lose their homes to the AUD program, “you may as well drive them to the town border” because they won’t be able to afford what’s rebuilt.

He said 55 affordable rentals have been demolished to build 29 different projects. 

Murillo, who has been a defender of the program, disagreed with him, and urged the council members to deal in facts, not speculation, when it comes to the high-density housing program.

“I knew your litigation spirit would have to respond to me,” Murillo said.

Dominguez fired back: “It’s basic math.”

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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