A four-story, 46-unit rental housing project proposed for a lot across the street from La Cumbre Plaza is the latest high-density apartment pitch to hit Santa Barbara.
West Hollywood-based Faring Capital has proposed a mix of 11 studios, 32 one-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments at 15 S. Hope Ave., to the east of the outdoor shopping center on Upper State Street.
The plans include an underground parking garage with 40 spaces, along with 11 above-ground spaces.
The project backs up to Arroyo Burro Creek and the developer intends to remove a healthy citriodora eucalyptus tree near the parking lot, which is adjacent to Taco Bell, soon to be Dunkin’ Donuts.
The developer went before the Planning Commission earlier this month with a concept review. The project is one in a wave of projects submitted under the average unit-density incentive ordinance, which allows developers to build high-density rental housing projects in certain areas of the city.
On the whole, the commissioners supported the project, saying it was a great location for high-density rental housing because it is near a transit corridor and many commercial businesses that residents could walk to. The site is currently occupied by a single-story rug store.
“Overall I think your project is really good,” commissioner Michael Jordan said. “It is in a location that is perfect.”
But the commissioners expressed concern about some project details. Among the issues:
» The architecture is “not Santa Barbara” enough. The proposed building features multicolored tile façades that are staggered and set back at different heights, along with balconies.
» The developer didn’t express enough specifics about its creek restoration plan.
» Whether two units should be wedged into what is now a narrow parking lot that leads to State Street. The city wants the developers to close off that driveway, but the developer has proposed two narrow units for the strip.
The project and others like it will pit Santa Barbara’s need for rental housing against the community’s desire to preserve its quality of life.
The city wants to increase market-rate rental housing in Santa Barbara, hoping to slow down what it perceives to be a widening gap between wealthier homeowners and renters and the middle class.
But the average unit-density program will also be a test of Santa Barbara’s sensibilities toward rental housing. Many of the proposals working their way through the planning process are tall, wide and dense.
The city expects that residents of these complexes will be “young professionals” with only one or no cars, who will walk, bike and bus to their jobs in the downtown core.
Faring Capital has never built anything in Santa Barbara, and commissioner Deborah Schwartz said the project reminded her of “downtown Boulder (Colo.).”
“It has an urban feeling and look to it,” she said. “Perhaps it is a little too hard.”
Darren Embry, Faring Capital’s director of community development, acknowledged that his company was “new to Santa Barbara,” but noted it has built more than 1 million square feet of commercial, hospitality and retail properties, along with more than 800 residential units.
Commissioner Sheila Lodge, a former mayor, said she likes the overall proposal, but has other concerns about the project.
“(It) does not say Santa Barbara at all to me,” she said. “I think it would be totally inappropriate.”
Lodge said it is important to get the project right because “this is an experimental program and if we don’t get units that are really livable, it is going to be a program that is going to fail.”
She said she also wants the developers to save the eucalyptus tree.
“For me, skyline trees are particularly precious,” Lodge said.
Jordan said he would like to see more details about the plans for the creek, noting that the idea of “restoration” isn’t enough.
“I don’t like leaps of faith,” he said.
Commissioner Jay Higgins said he wished the developers would have spoken to area employers about whether their workforce would be interested in renting units at the site.
The project is still in the concept phase so the developers will take what they heard from the Planning Commission and refine the proposal. It appears that the commissioners, for now, are supportive of the idea of rental housing at that location.
“I am really excited about this project,” Schwartz said. “The location to me is ideal for an AUD (average unit-density) project. The number of units, however they end up being laid out on the property, I think is appropriate.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.