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Santa Barbara Eases Requirements on Controversial Zoning Information Reports

City Council votes to allow homeowners to seek administrative approval to remedy certain existing site violations

Santa Barbara homeowners with minor violations that are revealed during zoning information reports will now have a potentially quick administrative remedy, rather than enduring a long, tedious appeal process.

The City Council voted unanimously to ease some of the difficulties associated with the controversial reports.

“I believe the ZIR process that Santa Barbara has is onerous, and voluntary would be a good idea,” Councilman Dale Francisco said.

“These steps that have been described are at least a step in the right direction so I will support them.”

As a result of the vote, if property owners choose to keep a site violation and legalize it, they can do so through an administrative sign-off. The exemption is not automatic, however, and city staff could choose to deny the request.

According to city officials, the primary method to resolve zoning violations currently is for the homeowner to seek a modification, which can be expensive and time-consuming. The new administrative approval would take place without notifying neighbors or a public hearing.

Some of the items that qualify for a minor zoning exemption include:

» Conversion of required parking to another use, as long as the number and configuration of parking spaces required at the time of the conversion are provided on site. 

» Within the required setback, open yard or distance between buildings, decks less than 200 square feet in size, not extending above the finished floor level of the first floor; building additions less than 250 square feet; and trash enclosures.

» Conversion of a legal nonconforming carport to a garage or vice versa.

» An accessory building less than 120 square feet, which is not considered a separate residential unit, constructed prior to Aug. 1, 1975, and not located in a front yard or required open yard.

» Accessory building(s) or garage(s) that exceed the size limits established by Santa Barbara Municipal Code §28.87.062.B.3 by no more than 100 square feet and were built prior to Aug. 1, 1975.

» Additions to residences that currently exceed the required maximum floor-to-lot-area ratio, if the addition is interior only within the existing legal building volume, such as a loft or cellar.

Sellers are required to apply for a zoning information report, at a cost of $465, no later than five days after entering an agreement for sale. If the report reveals violations, the problems must be fixed, often jeopardizing the sale of the house close to escrow.

Real estate agents say the reports are often riddled with errors and performed by zoning staff members, not building officials who have expertise in the area.

City officials believe the reports are essential to identifying illegal add-ons and remodels that may pose health and safety issues or adversely affect neighborhood culture and quality of life.

Although the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and others would like the zoning reports to be voluntary, the City Council disagrees.

“The question has been answered whether this is going to be voluntary,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said.

“We have talked a lot about making it voluntary. It is here. I hope there is going to be some acceptance of that.”

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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