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Santa Barbara Officials Say Communication Essential as AUD Development Program Is Reviewed

City Council gets report on the 966 units in the pipeline for the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program before joint meeting with Planning Commission

The Santa Barbara City Council discussed the need to put out more precise communication about the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program during a report Tuesday. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara City Council discussed the need to put out more precise communication about the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program during a report Tuesday. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara’s Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program remains one of the most complicated — and divisive — issues in the public eye, even three years after its adoption.

On Tuesday, the City Council became the latest city body to hear an update report on how well the affordable housing program is meeting its General Plan policy objectives.

The report was the council’s preparation for Thursday’s joint meeting with the Planning Commission, where the groups will discuss the implementation of the city’s General Plan and adaptive management program, with an emphasis on the AUD program.

Due to its complexity and confusion that can result from it, one of the council’s main messages Tuesday was that more precise public communication is needed when discussing the ordinance.

The AUD program was established in July 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 high cost of living. 

“It’s the middle, the upper-middle income tiers that are targeted for the AUD program,” said city planner Renee Brooke. “It’s that missing middle, as it’s sometimes referred to, that is not otherwise addressed through subsidized affordable housing, and yet the households don’t make enough to typically be able to afford a home in Santa Barbara.”

Since the program’s inception, the number of proposed housing and mixed-use developments has jumped considerably, with developers eager to take advantage of the streamlined process.

Nearly 1,000 net new units from 55 multi-unit and mixed-use projects entered the city’s pipeline under the AUD program since its inception.

Of those, 629 units are currently planned for the city’s “high-density residential” and “priority housing overlay” areas, 314 of which are pending, 164 are approved and 151 have building permits.

The AUD trial period ends once the program has been in place for eight years, or once 250 units in those high-density residential and priority housing overlay areas have received their certificates of occupancy.

Brooke said that based on the rate of projects that have received approval, are seeking building permits and are beginning construction, “we could hit that in the next two to two-and-a-half years.”

As of Sept. 1, though, no high-density-residential or priority-housing-overlay units have received their certificates of occupancy.

About 75 percent of the 966 AUD units currently in the pipeline are planned for the city’s commercial district and the other quarter in multi-family zones — evidence, Councilman Bendy White said, that the program is succeeding at least in its goal of housing people near commercial amenities.

An interactive map of AUD projects, updated monthly, can be found on the city’s website.

In all, Brooke said, almost 1,400 units are in the pipeline, with most non-AUD ones originally entering it before the ordinance’s adoption.

“This is really complicated, and there’s a translation-to-the-public challenge that we have here,” said Councilman Gregg Hart.

“There is a lot of concern about this program, there’s a lot of fear in the community about this program, there’s a lot of misinformation about this program,” he later added. “And hopefully, as we talk more about this in a more substantive way, we can begin to allay those concerns, and we can figure out ways to address the legitimate things that come out of this, as opposed to the fear-driven things.”

Common sources of confusion, Mayor Helene Schneider said, are precisely when the program goes up for review and the differences between the program’s classifications and density tiers.

“We throw around this term ‘the AUD’ as though everything that is under this quote-unquote 'experiment' is the AUD,” Schneider said. “I still think there is this confusion out among the general public — and even sometimes we have to remind ourselves up here — that the idea of this eight years/250 units is only one component of the entire AUD ordinance.”

In addition to the high-density-residential and priority-housing-overlay density tiers, AUD projects can also fall under the “medium-high density” tier. And in addition to the “250-unit trial” classification (the high-density-residential and priority-housing-overlay tiers), AUD cases are also broken down into “affordable” and the medium-high-density classification.

Public opinion of the ordinance varies widely -- Supporters point out the need for affordable housing in the city, while opponents worry about the impacts large developments will have on neighborhoods and who will end up living in the AUD housing.

The council, Hart said, has not had to consider very many project-approval appeals from neighbors of AUD projects.

“As much controversy and as much concern as there is out there, we’re not reviewing every project up here,” he said. “So I think that there is a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality.”

The joint City Council–Planning Commission meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday at the David Gebhard Public Meeting Room at 630 Garden St.

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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