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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 1:18 pm | Fair 63º


Santa Barbara Zoning Code Overhaul Seeks to Clarify Land Use Rules

Most changes are to modernize language from the 1950s, but the City Council could change parking requirements for restaurants and other food service businesses

City project planner Marck Aguilar discusses zoning maps with open house attendees at the Santa Barbara Central Library Thursday. Click to view larger
City project planner Marck Aguilar discusses zoning maps with open house attendees at the Santa Barbara Central Library Thursday. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

One of the first steps developers take when putting together a project in Santa Barbara is to pour over the city’s zoning ordinance for the applicable codes.

After designing their projects and submitting plans to the city, it’s not uncommon for project-review staff to point out another relevant code developers missed.

Santa Barbara’s zoning ordinance — Title 28 of 29 in the 1,200-page Santa Barbara Municipal Code — is a behemoth of a document in its own right.

The zoning ordinance delineates the city’s many land-use zones and lays out what uses — residential, commercial, industrial, parks, etc. — are allowed in each one. It includes development standards and regulations, and establishes the city’s development review process.

Much of the ordinance’s language dates back to at least its last major overhaul in 1957, and the city is now three years into a total overhaul of the document. Only small changes and updates have been made over the last 60 years.

Because of “the old language and because little amendments have been added hodge-podge over the years here and there, it’s just totally disorganized,” said city senior planner Danny Kato.

The vast majority of the changes relate to modernizing the document’s language, clarifying existing regulations and making the ordinance more reader-friendly.

Abbreviations for zones are changing to make them more intuitive, city long-range planner Rosie Dyste told Noozhawk.

For instance, the zone for single residential units with a 10,000-square-foot minimum lot size will be called a “RS-10,” rather than “E-3.” The proposed new abbreviation for the zone known as “Research and Development and Administrative Office Zone,” or “C-X,” will be “RD,” for “Research and Development.”

Clearly defining the rules eliminates instances where planning staff have to interpret the ordinance’s outdated language, city project planner Marck Aguilar told Noozhawk.

The new zoning ordinance, expected to be adopted in June or July, does not change any development standards related to contentious land-use-related issues like vacation rentals, the Average Unit Density Program or medical marijuana dispensaries.

Major cornerstones of development regulation like building heights, nonresidential growth limits and residential density limits — established in the city’s General Plan — have also been left untouched.

Of the regulatory changes proposed, restaurant and food-service parking is the biggest, Kato said.

The question of how much parking a food-related business must provide arises when one enters into a vacant space that had a different use — say, a bookstore.

Kato said parking engineering studies have shown restaurants and food services have higher parking demands than other retail.

Proposals range from requiring no additional parking to requiring double what the site was supposed to have.

Providing restaurant and food-service businesses the most parking flexibility when entering a new location tends to mean more competition for fewer parking spots, which generates a greater impact on the supply of street parking.

But regulations aimed at limiting impacts to street parking — like requiring more on-site parking — tend to constrain those types of businesses’ parking flexibility, and thus the ease of entering a given location.

“There are good arguments on both sides,” Kato said.

How to balance that is ultimately the City Council’s decision.

Changes are also proposed for what uses are allowed in the Light Manufacturing zone (M-1) in the Lower Eastside, proposed to be refashioned as Manufacturing Industrial (M-I).

Virtually all uses except residential are allowed there. The city wants to start excluding non-industrial uses, including eating and drinking establishments, schools, medical offices and hotels.

Kato said that with manufacturing companies’ lower profit margins, industrial-zoned land tends to be cheaper. The introduction of other, more profitable uses raises rents and drives out manufacturing.

“We’re seeing a transition away from manufacturing, and part of what the General Plan decision makers had wanted was to … try and maintain industrial manufacturing uses,” he said.

M-1 businesses that don’t conform to the new standards aren’t kicked out, however: They become what’s known as legal non-conforming uses that can continue, but they cannot expand.

In general, a legal non-conforming business that shuts down can be replaced by another — say, a restaurant for a nightclub — if the change occurs within a year, Kato said.

Over the last few years, what’s known as the draft NZO has gone several times before both the Planning Commission and a joint committee comprised of planning commissioners and city council members, and was also the subject of two open houses this month.

The Planning Commission will examine the document one more time in special meetings planned for March 2 and March 9 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at City Hall. From there, it goes onto the City Council’s Ordinance Committee, and then finally the full council for approval.

Each step, Aguilar said, is an opportunity for the public to provide input. Online feedback can be given here.

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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