A four-story, 19-unit apartment project proposed for 425 Santa Barbara St. near downtown Santa Barbara is deep into the Architectural Board of Review process.
A four-story, 19-unit apartment project proposed for 425 Santa Barbara St. near downtown Santa Barbara is deep into the Architectural Board of Review process. Credit: Vanguard Planning rendering

The Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review has voted against approval of a four-story, 19-unit apartment project near downtown.

However, state housing law may restrict the review board’s control over the plans going forward.

The board wants the project’s room plate heights reduced to nine feet from 10, to bring down the height of the building proposed at 425 Santa Barbara St. across from Smart & Final.

The applicant and developer said they already have redesigned the project significantly, and that the board is running out of opportunities for further review because of state law aimed at streamlining the approval process.

“Unfortunately … based on the applicant’s approach and the state law, we are in a rock and hard place,” board president Kevin Moore said at a hearing last week.

“We made the comments, we have been pretty clear from meeting one about the height. I don’t think that has changed at all.”

The development is proposed under state Senate Bill 330, which limits the number of meetings that design review boards can hold to five. Last Tuesday was the board’s third meeting.

The project consists of 10 studio units, eight one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment on the currently vacant lot.

While board members said they appreciated the design aesthetics, they added that they could not support the height.

Board member Dennis Whelan called the project “wayward.”

He expressed concerns that the 48-foot-tall project, which has no parking, featured bicycles intersecting with the courtyard.

“The design doesn’t promote any separate circulation,” Whelan said. “Overall, the livability and quality of life for the residents, I think, is questionable, if not negligible.”

Whelan also said the four-story building “is not within range of heights of the neighborhood.”

Moore said the board would not budge on its standards simply because of the new state law. According to him, there is no reason for 10-foot ceilings.

“In order for this project to be found compatible, the plate heights just need to be reduced,” he said. “And the roof parapet needs to come down.”

Jarrett Gorin, principal of Vanguard Planning and the representative for property owner Ed St. George, warned that the board needed to act sooner.

“There is a practical matter here,” he said at the meeting. “We have an allowance of two meetings left, so one of these hearings would be great to have the scope of final design review.”

Planner Allison DeBusk said that since the review process cannot exceed five meetings, if the board does grant approval at its next meeting, the developer would just have to take the project to the City Council for the fifth meeting.

At that point, whatever the council approves would be final, since by law the board would be out of review options.

“At the rate we are going, that’s it,” Gorin said. “We’re at that margin, so project design approval would have to be at the next meeting.”

At the meeting, Gorin also noted that sometimes the Architectural Board of Review will just have to disagree with the developer and live with it.

“On these plate heights, we have heard you on that, and it is just something we disagree on,” he said. “This is one issue out of a myriad of issues. This may be the one issue we can’t agree on.”

Gorin told Noozhawk after the meeting that the future is unclear.

“We are considering all of our options,” he said. “Our preference is to go forward with the support of the ABR. Under SB 330, the city has no legal basis to deny this project.”

He said the law was enacted to minimize delaying projects over examples like “plate heights.”

“‘Reduce plate heights’ is a textbook example of the subjective design requirements that SB 330 was intended to cut through in order to promote the production of housing units in California,” Gorin said.