425 Garden St.
A four-story, 36-unit rental housing project proposed for 425 Garden St. in Santa Barbara, received a mixed conceptual review from the Planning Commission. (Rethink Development rendering)

The corner of Garden and East Gutierrez streets in Santa Barbara is headed for a major transformation.

Owner Greg Reitz has proposed a 36-unit development, with no parking, at 425 Garden St. The site, between East Gutierrez and East Haley streets on the east side of Office Max, is currently occupied by three one-story warehouse buildings, which would be demolished.

In their place, Reitz wants to build a four-story building with 30 market-rate units, two moderate-income units and four very-low income units.

The project went before the Planning Commission on Thursday and was met with mixed feedback. The meeting was a concept review, so the applicant will take the feedback and revise the proposal.

Reitz proposed it as part of the city’s average unit-sized density incentive program, which allows developers bonus density in exchange for building rental apartments.

“This site is currently an eyesore, so improvements are appreciated,” commissioner Leslie Wiscomb observed. “I feel the scale of the project is not really appropriate for this neighborhood. There needs to be more work done to balance the scale and the aesthestics … so it becomes a sensitive development within the community.”

She said the project doesn’t yet “have a sense of place.”

The project will not provide parking to discourage automobile ownership. Each unit will have a bicyclye parking space, however.

With an average unit size of 811 square feet, the project includes a single one-bedroom apartment, 21 two-bedroom units and 14 three-bedroom units.

Planning commissioners provided a variety of feedback. They all said they supported the new housing, but that more bike spaces were needed and that more attention should be paid to the pedestrian aspects.

A neighbor, Christine Feldman, expressed concerns.

“I know we need housing, I get it,” she said. “But I think we’re jumping a little bit too quickly on this property.”

Feldman pointed out there is no bike lane on that block of Garden Street, which she said already is unsafe for cyclists.

“The amount of traffic on that one narrow block is insane,” she said, referring to the two southbound lanes of traffic and the single northbound lane.

She also had concerns about the project’s design.

“I know you want to eliminate cars, or what have you, but in my opinion, you are also eliminating families, you are eliminating handicaps, you have to have healthy people who can bike ride, you are eliminating so much of the population,” Feldman said.

Commissioner Jay Higgins said the city’s AUD program is already written into code and that more housing, with a focus on people, not parking, is the wave of the future. He urged Reitz and Feldman to find common ground.

Commissioner Sheila Lodge said the site is a good one for housing, but that the project needs to be revised.

“This building is out of scale with the neighborhood,” she said. “It doesn’t say Santa Barbara.”

While the housing is needed, it can’t be “at any cost to the community,” she added.

Commissione John Baucke said he likes the project, but “small increments of change can make a difference.”

He described the AUD program as “a complete failure” because the city is approving so many rental units, but very few are set aside for lower-wage renters.

“The project as a whole just seems a tad too massive,” Baucke said. “I believe it is the right project at the right location. There’s just a lot of details that need to be worked out.”

Commission chairman Gabe Escobedo said he was skeptical that the units would be affordable but that the housing is still needed.

“It is a big opportunity for this location,” he said. “It is very walkable. It is very bikable. It is close to a lot of amenities. There’s a grocery store nearby.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.