Residents broke off into groups during interactive workshop.
Residents broke off into groups during interactive workshop Wednesday night to brainstorm ideas about how to increase housing in downtown Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara’s city leaders are considering changes to the Average Unit-size Density Incentive Program to encourage more housing projects in the downtown area.

To that end, residents offered feedback Wednesday night during an interactive workshop at the Faulkner Gallery of the Santa Barbara Central Library.

Project Planner Jessica Metzger led a 25-minute presentation before the crowd broke off into smaller groups to brainstorm.

Ideas presented included allowing increased residential density and other development incentives in the downtown core, and revising boundaries of medium-high density, high density and priority housing overlay land-use designations citywide.

The program provides reductions in development standards related to car parking, setbacks and open space to further incentivize housing construction.

“I hear a lot as a planner that Santa Barbara is a built-out community,” Metzger told more than 40 people at the event. “And I have to tell you that I just don’t believe that is true.”

She mentioned a design charrette hosted by AIA Santa Barbara that advocated for the development of housing units in Santa Barbara’s historic central core, and emphasized the importance of allowing higher-density housing downtown, and building more housing near State Street. 

“Density can be fit into the fabric of our community,” Metzger said. “To do that, though, we also need to review parking standards.”

Proposed ideas include considering apartment buildings to “unbundle” parking from rent, allowing tenants to refuse parking.

Parking maximums or charging an in-lieu fee if parking is not provided on-site were other options.

Metzger said a developer fee could be priced between $10,000 to $20,000 a space for housing projects with fewer vehicle parking spaces than those projects would be required to need.

The goal is to provide parking incentives to facilitate more housing.

There are currently no incentives for mixed-use, she said, and it’s infeasible to provide new parking on State Street or for some commercial space conversions. 

Downtown Santa Barbara has entertainment, restaurants, jobs and cultural events, Metzger said.

It’s only missing the housing component. 

“The people who live in these houses that we are imagining downtown wouldn’t have to drive as frequently because they would be close to all of these services,” Metzger said. “Urban populations are more likely to adopt other modes of transportation other than vehicles.” 

The workshop was an opportunity for residents to provide feedback. People were asked to review density boundaries and parking alternatives the city could use to further incentivize interested housing developers. 

The majority of attendees raised their hands when Metzger asked if they own a home in Santa Barbara, and most people have been living in the city between five years and 20 years.

People were asked a series of questions such as “Where should new housing be located” and “What are your thoughts on downtown parking?”

The City Council adopted the AUD program in 2013 to encourage new residential rental and for-sale housing development. The program has an initial duration of eight years, ending in July 2021, or plans to halt applications once 250 new units receive certificates of occupancy. 

“To date, we have over 233 units that have been constructed through this program,” Metzger said of the housing-incentive program. 

Santa Barbara has an online map showing project development status and locations.

Multiple AUD developments have opened to renters, including the Arlington Village on Chapala Street, a complex at 1623 De la Vina St., a mixed-use project at 604 E. Cota St. and The Marc apartment complex, which was the first completed AUD project.

The City Council also initiated various zoning amendments to adjust the AUD program.

The AUD program allows different densities based on average size, so the smaller the average size, the greater the number of units allowed, Metzger said.

Santa Barbara must build 3,083 new housing units by 2023 to meet state mandates overseen by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, Metzger said, adding that the city has permitted 1,017 housing units to date. 

There could be serious implications if the city doesn’t meet their state-mandated housing goals in full.

“We can suddenly become ineligible for a wide variety of state funding, including things like veterans services, mental health, homeless services, grants for parks and affordable housing grants,” Metzger said. 

Before Santa Barbara’s housing incentive program, “high-end luxury condominiums” were built in the city, Metzger said, adding that “this wasn’t serving our population that needed housing.” 

The housing incentive program in Santa Barbara’s General Plan encourages housing near public transit, and commercial services through smaller units and increased density, parking demand standards, targeted infrastructure improvements, and increase open areas and public space.

“The main goal of this program is to create more housing, and where are all of those things coming together — that would be downtown,” Metzger said. “We have transit. We can walk and we can bike easily in town. 

“There are commercial services, recreational opportunities and cultural events all in our downtown,” she continued. “What we are missing is the housing component.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.