An apartment project proposed for Santa Barbara’s Eastside is getting bigger.
The Santa Barbara Planning Commission last voted 7-0 to allow a 76-unit project to expand to 82 units, in a Spanish-Mediterranean style.
Sixteen of the units will be set aside as moderate-income affordable. The height of the three- and four-story building would increase to mostly 48 feet, with some portions reaching 52 feet.
The commercial space would be reduced from 2,737 to 1,365 square feet, and the residential amenities would be enhanced to include an expanded fitness area — from 715 square feet to 3,989 square feet — and a business center with two conference rooms.
The number of parking spaces would increase from 88 to 110, most of which would be inside a parking-lift system.
Although some of the commissioners expressed displeasure with the number of units, architecture, and the height, the fact that the project included affordable housing swayed them to support the change.
“This project, we clearly get a community benefit, 16 units for an income category that we have not built really an units in, the missing middle,” said planning commission chair Gabe Escobedo. “In this project we get it.”
The housing project is at 701 Milpas St., and formerly had an address of 711 Milpas St.
Developers Ed St. George, Jay Bjorndahl and Alan Bleecker received a development agreement from the City Council to guarantee that the project is built, in exchange for more affordable units.
The building will undoubtedly change the character of Milpas Street. At a time when the city is in desperate need of more housing, the project provides market-rate and below-market rate units for a group that doesn’t qualify fo low-income housing through the Santa Barbara Housing Authority.
The building will be the biggest on Milpas Street and change the experience on the corner of Milpas and Ortega streets.
It’s also likely the first of many other large-scale housing projects, raising concerns that some of the street’s unique, small-business charm will eventually get lost behind big developments.
The meeting was highlighted by comments from Commissioner John Baucke, who does not like the design.
“I find the architecture of this to be average at best,” Baucke said. “It certainly is not at Santa Barbara standards. It needs a lot more work.”
Baucke said the project is the first big housing development on Milpas Street, and will set the tone for future proposals. It should be held to a higher standard because of that, he said.
He also was upset that the front of the building facing Milpas Street did not contain retail space or something that was serving the public. He said the developer was killing two-thirds of the street by having apartments facing the street, rather than a public space.
“That’s how urbanism works,” Baucke said.
Jarrett Gorin, principal at Vanguard Planning, which represents the developer, told the panel that they weren’t going to redesign anything at this stage.
“The whole purpose of a development agreement is to provide certainty to an applicant,” Gorin said. “We don’t want to continue to have our project redesigned when new people come on boards.”
Gorin said he’s open to some design suggestions from the architectural board of review, but that they must be reasonable since a development agreement is already in place.
“Our answer to ABR’s comments isn’t going to be a flat ‘no,’ but if they start saying take parts of the fourth floor off and things like that, it is going to be a flat ‘no,’” Gorin said.
As for the new height of the building, Gorin said the impact to people on the street would be minimal.
“When you are standing right next to the building, buildings look the same whether they are three stories tall or 10 stories tall because they are next to you,” Gorin said.
Commissioner Jay Higgins said he agreed with Baucke’s suggestions that some redesign of the front of the building facing Milpas Street could be helpful, but that “perfection cannot be the enemy of good enough.”
“We have a bigger problem ahead of us to solve, which is housing,” Higgins said. “That is just eclipsing everything else.