In an unexpected development, the city of Santa Barbara’s Architectural Board of Review on Monday rejected developer Alan Bleecker’s proposal to build 76 apartments for young workers and a coffee shop on the 700 block of Milpas Street.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Bleecker said of the decision immediately after the meeting
He has the right to appeal the rejection to the City Council, but he wasn’t sure Monday night of his next move.
“We’ll decide,” he said, referring to his team, which includes prominent land-use attorney Steve Amerikaner and architect Detlev Peikert.
Bleecker, the owner of Capitol Hardware on Milpas Street, wants to convert his store into a 76-unit rental complex at 711 N. Milpas St.
He is proposing to build 44 two-bedroom units and 32 one-bedroom units ranging in size from 575 to 805 square feet. He has proposed 88 parking spaces and 80 bike parking spots.
Underlying the debate over the project is a political, neighborhood and cultural tug-of-war over the direction of Santa Barbara and whether it can be a community for working-class families and individuals, or transform into a hotbed of expensive studios and small rental apartments for young, millennial workers.
The project is proposed under the city’s controversial Average Unit-sized Density incentive program, which allows developers to stack multiple apartments on smaller pieces of land in exchange for building rental apartments.
The problem, affordable housing activists say, is that the new apartments are not affordable, and are too small anyway for working, middle-class families, who cannot afford to buy a home in Santa Barbara.
In fact, the Marc at 3885 State St. — the first AUD project built — advertises one-bedrooms for $3,200 a month and two-bedrooms for up to $3,700.
Exacerbating the debate on the Eastside is a feeling that the largely working-class Latino neighborhood could eventually get pushed out by a new generation of renters moving into new developments.
The ABR vote was 3-2, with members Howard Wittausch, David Watkins and Bob Cunningham supporting denial of the project and members Amy Fitzgerald-Tripp and Richard Six voting to approve it. Board member Kevin Moore left the meeting early and was absent for the discussion and vote.
The project had already received preliminary design approval two years ago, but when it came time Monday night to give the project final design review, a majority of the ABR said the project didn’t fit with the Milpas neighborhood and community.
“The bottom line is that there are still numerous details that are really not of this area, not indigenous to Santa Barbara, not Milpas, not neighborhood compatible,” Wittausch said.
He took exception to architect Peikert’s characterization earlier in the meeting that the project would be a “refresher” for the neighborhood and invite young millennial workers.
“The idea that this building would somehow be a refresher to the millennials, that plays into my feeling that they should go into the funk zone,” Wittausch said. “This is a neighborhood. This is a community. My obligation is to the community, not to you, although I like you guys. My obligation is to the community and the community is speaking against this building.”
Peikert said that the project would “bring the upper end of the Milpas corridor into the 21st century.”
He said the Milpas corridor was a unique part of the city and deserved a building that was more modern.
“The most popular part of our city right now, especially for young people, is the funk zone,” Peikert said. “It has a lot of modern buildings.”
Pearl Chase Society member Steve Dowty spoke in opposition to the project.
“I think it is just not compatible with the Milpas street neighborhood in terms of mass, bulk and scale,” Dowty said. “I don’t think it belongs in Santa Barbara.”
Santa Barbara resident Anna Marie Gott led the organized opposition to the project, and said that the project should be denied because it requires some motorists to back out into a street — both Milpas and Ortega streets — to exit the project.
Gott also said the city’s staff hearing officer approved parking modifications for the project, but they have expired, so the applicant shouldn’t be allowed to move forward.
Assistant City Attorney Tava Ostrenger disputed Gott’s contention, saying that she had spoken with the public works director, and that director approved the backing out into the street modification.
“711 North Milpas is a hot mess,” Gott said. “The project needs to be denied by you today and appealed by the applicant to the City Council.”
Amerikaner spoke immediately after Gott, saying, “I didn’t realize that my head would be spinning as much as it is after the last presentation.
“These are all questions, while interesting, that are not on the table before you” he told the ABR.
Wittausch said the “industrious look” should be stricken from the building.
Even board member Richard Six, who voted for the project Monday night, said it had problems with compatibility.
“Its style is incompatible with the neighborhood, but it is too late in this process to do anything about that,” Six said. “I must abide by the process and the guideliness that spell out that this is in final design.”
After the meeting ended, Bleecker, Amerikaner and his team remained seated in the front row for a few minutes, allowing Wittausch to say politely to them, “I’m sorry.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.