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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 8:25 pm | Fair 54º


Santa Barbara Council Expands Planning Commission Review for Rental Housing Projects

The Santa Barbara City Council voted this week to expand Planning Commission review to include rental housing properties that are part of the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program.

With extremely low vacancy rates for rental housing, Santa Barbara leaders approved the incentive program with a focus on non-subsidized rental housing made of smaller, more-affordable residential units within easy walking, biking and transit distance to parks and stores.

As part of the program, the planning review process left out the Planning Commission entirely, and had the Architectural Board of Review or the Historic Landmarks Commission evaluate each project’s design.

Heavy opposition to some of these projects made the city reconsider its review process.

The first two projects processed through this program were appealed to the City Council: the 40-unit Peoples’ Self-Help Housing Corp. affordable housing project at 510 N. Salsipuedes St., and the Arlington Village complex on Chapala and Sola streets.

Both appeals were denied.

The approved changes to the process set up “triggers” for automatic review by the Planning Commission, and allow the Architectural Board of Review and Historic Landmarks Commission to refer any project to the Planning Commission for review, with or without these criteria.

The HLC authority to send any project on a highly visible site to the Planning Commission now mimics the authority of the ABR, city staff said.  

Community Development project planner Allison DeBusk said the Planning Commission review will be triggered if a project has a high density or priority housing overlay, and a project site of 15,000 square feet or more (including all involved parcels).

That Planning Commission design review recommendations will not be appealable, but the final project approval is always appealable to City Council.

Councilman Bendy White, a former planning commissioner, said these rule changes are “a cleanup issue.”

“I think we’re bringing in our seasoned planners, our citizen representative planners, to help us make sure a project is appropriate in a whole bunch of ways,” he said.

Councilman Gregg Hart and Councilwoman Cathy Murillo voted against the changes, saying they were unnecessary and moved away from the program’s intent.

Adding another layer of review — which means extra time and money — makes it more difficult to build affordable housing projects, Hart said.

Councilman Dale Francisco said the Planning Commission review is vital, and it’s “how we’ve always done things in Santa Barbara.”

There have been 12 projects that are pending or approved through the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program, DeBusk said.

Five of those projects would have met the triggers approved by the City Council this week:

The approved 89-unit market-rate rental housing project at 3885 State St., which is within the priority housing overlay and includes commercial development.

» The pending 60-unit affordable senior rental housing project at 3869 State St.

» The pending 90-unit affordable senior rental housing project within the priority housing overlay at 251 S. Hope Ave.

» The pending 29-unit market-rate rental housing project within the priority housing overlay at 604 E. Cota St.

» The approved 40-unit affordable rental housing project within the priority housing overlay at 510 Salsipuedes St.

DeBusk said projects that are pending won’t be subjected to the new rules if they already have had their first design review before the ordinance goes into effect, which will be 30 days from final approval, scheduled for next Tuesday.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli 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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