A rendering shows the 82-unit apartment project looking from Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.
A rendering shows the 82-unit apartment project looking from Milpas Street in Santa Barbara. (RRM Design Group courtesy rendering)

Developer Ed St. George on Tuesday won approval for a series of changes he made to his apartment project at 701 N. Milpas St. in Santa Barbara.

St. George and his business partners already have a development agreement to build the property, but they made recent changes. Portions of the new building will be a little taller, and a larger gym will replace some of the commercial area. 

The vote was 5-1, with Mayor Cathy Murillo, Councilmen Eric Friedman and Mike Jordan, and Councilwomen Megan Harmon and Alejandra Gutierrez in support. Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon opposed the housing project, and Councilman Oscar Gutierrez was absent. 

Harmon said the housing is exactly the kind the community needs. 

“This project that is before us today is such a vast improvement,” Harmon said. “It has demonstrated the success of the development agreement, to get something that best suits the community, and frankly, is more reflective of the kind of housing we need in this community.”

The new project would boost the number of units of rental housing from 76 to 82, and designate 16 of those units as moderate-income affordable units. The architecture would change from modern to Spanish Mediterranean style. The height of the building would increase from 45 feet to 48 feet in most areas, with the highest part reaching 52 feet maximum.

The commercial space would drop from 2,737 square feet to 1,365 square feet. The expanded fitness area would go from 715 square feet to 3,989 square feet, and include a business center with two conference rooms. There would be 110 parking spaces at the site.

A rendering shows two versions of the proposed apartment project at 701 N. Milpas St.

A rendering shows two versions of the proposed apartment project at 701 N. Milpas St. The bottom version is what had been approved, and the top version is what the council approved on Tuesday. (RRM Design Group courtesy rendering)

Citing the need for more rental apartments in the city, officials agreed to work with St. George and his business partners, Jay Bjorndahl and Alan Bleecker, on the $30 million project. A development agreement enables the city and the developers to agree on actions and conditions while helping the city obtain certain concessions. Ultimately, it provides an assurance that the project won’t be rejected at the end, which it wasn’t at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“This new housing project will help bring new life to Milpas Street,” St. George said, “with the new Santa Barbara Inn anchoring the beach end and now this project anchoring the Santa Barbara Bowl end. I predict Milpas Street within the next 10 to 15 years will be Santa Barbara’s new restaurant row. I have a tremendous amount of faith in this up-and-coming neighborhood.”

He said the project will be a first-rate apartment community.

“This is the real future of apartment living, and I’m grateful to be a part of it,” St. George said. 

Sneddon, however, said she was not impressed with the housing project.

“I am just not ready for this size, bulk and scale,” she said.

Sneddon said the project has come a long way, but that the 16 below-market units don’t make up for the rest of the project.

“The 16 affordable units are really important, but I just don’t think they offset the 66 market-rate units and the impact,” Sneddon said.

She said the project will “forever change the character of Milpas.”

The project is in Alejandra Gutierrez’s district, and she said she supports it.

“Change is hard,” she said. “But I have also heard really good things in the community about this project. Sometimes you have to take a risk and see how it is. I am really proud, actually, of getting some affordable housing in our city.”

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.