State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.
State Street and other areas of downtown Santa Barbara could see more rental-housing development under a proposal being considered by the City Council on Tuesday. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara will take its next step toward overhauling its high-density housing policies when the City Council meets Tuesday at City Hall.

The council is scheduled to vote on changes to the average unit-sized density (AUD) incentive program, which the council approved in 2013. The city is looking to overhaul the program. 

At the core of the changes is the city’s effort to move its rental apartment housing program to the downtown core — and away from the Eastside, which has received the brunt of the program’s development.

The council in November met with the Planning Commission to discuss some of the changes. 

The council initially approved the program with the goal of encouraging developers to build rental apartments in certain parts of the city, including the Eastside and the Milpas Street area.

“Since the AUD’s inception, we’ve learned some lessons about how the ordinance should be changed to work better,” said Councilwoman Meagan Harmon. “Once those lessons and best practices are implemented, I believe the AUD program will more effectively lead to the development of housing stock that is responsive to the needs of our community.”

Allowing higher density downtown would mark a dramatic change in philosophy for the city, and signal the embrace of a new philosophy of building housing downtown above commercial buildings.

Officials hope that moving housing downtown will also help to alleviate neighborhood parking concerns because some renters could park in downtown lots. 

Developers for more than 40 years did not build rental housing, instead choosing to construct condos because the cost of land was too high. The AUD program, however, gave developers bonus density, so they could build more units on pieces of land, allowing them to make a profit.  

Moving housing downtown could attract young professionals who enjoy living near shopping, drinking and restaurant opportunities, while also creating a built-in customer base for the struggling merchants in the area.

Moving the housing downtown could also mean possibly closing portions of State Street to vehicular traffic. 

City staff has proposed several changes, including allowing developers to pay an in-lieu fee of $10,000 instead of providing an off-street parking space in the central business district.

Other proposals include allowing developers to separate a parking fee from the rent, so people without cars could pay less; placing limits on the sizes of the units, instead of the total number, which would allow developers to build more smaller units; allowing individual apartments to be as high as 10 feet in some zones; and increasing the maximum building height from 45 to 48 feet. 

The City Council also will decide whether to extend the overall program, which as of now is scheduled to sunset when 250 units are built or by 2021. There have been 222 units built so far. 

“It has taken us many years to get here,” Harmon said. “I’m thrilled to be moving forward—these changes are a hugely positive step for our city.”

The meeting is at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Santa Barbara City Hall, 735 Anacapa St. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.