The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to allow an already-approved housing project on North Milpas Street to grow by 7 feet and add affordable housing units.
“We could pull our permit immediately as approved,” St. George told Noozhawk. “Alan and I felt that this project should really speak to the community’s needs. One hundred percent of the project’s changes we are proposing are from both the public and Planning Commission’s recommendations.”
Bleecker won approval from the council in 2019 to build a 76-unit apartment project on the 1½-acre property. Shortly after, he and St. George became business partners.
The new project would add six units, raise the height of the building to 52 feet from 45, and include 16 moderate-income apartments.
Rather than sending the revised project back through the planning approval process, Council members Alejandra Gutierrez, whose First District includes the North Milpas Street neighborhood, and Eric Friedman are proposing that the city work directly with Bleecker and St. George to create a development agreement.
“It is highly unusual to seek council approval for streamlined development project amendments outside the normal city planning processes,” according to a letter from Gutierrez and Friedman. “711 N. Milpas, however, has been a highly controversial and unusual project since its inception, and it remained so right through council approval on appeal March 2019.”
The development agreement would allow the city to work with Bleecker and St. George to craft a specific set of terms that would go before the Planning Commission for final approval. Such an agreement would enable the city and the developers to agree on actions and conditions while helping the city obtain certain concessions.
The concept is not new; the city has entered into similar agreements for the proposed Parker family waterfront hotel.
The new North Milpas Street project plan is in sync with Santa Barbara’s goals by providing 16 below-market rental units.
“The revised project directly addresses community concerns about design compatibility, while providing 16 new moderate-income affordable units and 22 additional parking spaces,” Gutierrez and Friedman’s letter states.
“While additional height is needed to accommodate the redesign, we believe that the trade-off of height to achieve a more compatible design is worthy of serious consideration.”
St. George told Noozhawk that Bleecker’s father-in-law, Gordon Reisig, a banker at then-Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, extended him a line of credit two decades ago when St. George was an upstart builder and needed a hand to keep his business going. He said he felt a sense of loyalty to the Bleecker family when he joined the project six months ago.
Bleecker owns Capitol Hardware with his business partner, Jay Bjorndahl, and recently acquired Santa Barbara Plumbing Supplies at 621 N. Milpas St. To accommodate the housing project, he plans to consolidate Capitol Hardware inside the Santa Barbara Plumbing Supplies building.
The City Council will decide Tuesday whether to direct City Administrator Paul Casey and City Attorney Ariel Calonne to draft a development agreement with Bleecker and St. George. Ultimately, five council members must approve of the agreement.
“We would add a cautionary note to project applicants,” Gutierrez and Friedman’s letter warns. “In general, the City Council will not intervene in the city’s development review processes …
“This project has been highly unusual since its inception, and it has already been to the council on appeal. … We wish to emphasize that all project negotiations must be conducted by and through our professional staff.”