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Santa Barbara Planning Commission Backs 30-unit Rental, Restaurant Project For Downtown

Development is the latest proposal under the average-unit-sized density incentive program

Santa Barbara’s Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously endorsed a 30-apartment, mixed-use development proposed for the corner of Anacapa and Ortega streets downtown.
Santa Barbara’s Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously endorsed a 30-apartment, mixed-use development proposed for the corner of Anacapa and Ortega streets downtown. (Contributed photo)

Downtown Santa Barbara could soon be home to 30 new apartments, the latest average unit-size density project proposed for the city.

But unlike some of the other recent proposals — on Santa Barbara Street, the Eastside and upper State Street — this project whipped through the city Planning Commission on Thursday with little resistance.

The commissioners voted 7-0 in support of the project.

"This is an ideal location," said Commissioner June Pujo. "I couldn't come up with a better project at a better location than this one."

The three- and four-story project is proposed for 634 Anacapa Street, the old Craviota Iron Shop, on the corner of Anacapa and Ortega streets and across from the Paradise Cafe.

Crews plan to demolish two buildings on the site and build a mixed-use development that includes a restaurant and two retail spaces on the first floor.

Developers plan to build eight studios, 13 one-bedrooms and nine two-bedrooms. All of the units would be rentals, a key provision of the average unit density program

The unit sizes would range from 605 to 1,117 square feet. The project is mostly three stories, except for a multipurpose room on the fourth floor, which reaches 45 feet. 

A map of the parcel can be seen below.

The development includes 32 parking spaces — 30 for the residents — in an on-grade parking garage accessed from Ortega Street.

"We are excited about this," said architect Brian Cearnal. "This is a site that I think easily accepts this kind of density."

Cearnal, one of Santa Barbara's longtime architects, said his goal was to design a project with a variety of unit sizes. 

"We have a lot of people in this town who share housing with others, and they would love to be able to have a little apartment of their own, in and and around downtown," Cearnal said.

Santa Barbara is testing the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program as a way to encourage developers to build more rental housing in the city. 

City leaders want to see more affordable housing near bus lines and within walking and biking distance of parks, stores and the downtown commercial area.

They envision "young professionals" scooping up the units and walking or biking to work, easing the pain of commuting and congestion on Highway 101.

The program was created in 2013 and sunsets in 2020 or until 250 units been built. So far, no units have been constructed, but 176 have been approved and more than 100 are in the pipeline.

The program has raised questions about whether Santa Barbara needs more high-density housing.

Since the ordinance requires that developers build only one parking space per unit, some critics worry that the so-called "young professionals" will often have more than one car per unit and clog nearby streets with more parked cars.

Critics also worry about tall buildings blocking views and impacts on environmental sustainability.

Some recent projects include a four-story, 46-unit rental housing project proposed for a lot across the street from La Cumbre Plaza; a four-story, 44-foot-high building, with seven units — 24 bedrooms combined — on a small lot the size  of a single-family home; and a 23-unit apartment building – studios, one- and two-bedrooms at 800 Santa Barbara St., next to El Presidio de Santa Barbara Historic Park in the city’s El Pueblo Viejo District.

All of those projects have sparked opposition, but Cearnal's downtown project was widely embraced. 

"Here is a model example of the right place and the right development, with such a critical need that we have," said Commissioner Deborah Schwartz. "These studios and these one-bedroom units will be an excellent opportunity."

The project must now go to the Historic Landmarks Commission for review because it is in the El Pueblo Viejo District. 

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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