Owners seek to build 39-unit complex in old Volkswagen dealership
The family who owns the site of the former Volkswagen dealership on Chapala Street is looking to put the pedal to the metal on downtown housing.
Proposed for 630 Chapala St. is a mixed-use, three- and four-story housing complex.
It would include 39 Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program rental units, four of which would be affordable and the rest market rate.
“It’s taken a while for the family to come together and decide what we thought was the best use of the property,” Tom Meaney, the applicant and architect behind the Santa Barbara project, told the News-Press. His grandfather founded the original car dealership more than 60 years ago, and the architect said that the family could have opened a new car dealership or a commercial property.
“But, in terms of the direction of the city, they’re wanting housing downtown, not another car dealership necessarily,” he said, referring to the city of Santa Barbara’s plans.
The applicant plans to demolish the existing structure except for the service building in the back, which will be repurposed. The complex would include 5,119 square feet of commercial space and 32,429 square feet of residential space.
Mr. Meaney said the biggest amenity will be a central courtyard with paseos and arcades, along with a small roof deck.
The project went before the Historic Landmarks Commission for a concept review last week. Most commissioners liked the project, but some expressed concerns with the height exceeding the typical 45-foot limit, considering other tall buildings already on Chapala Street, he said.
However, the Planning Commission is considering a Community Benefit Height Exception, which will be discussed next week.
Mr. Meaney said the tallest part of the building is a “very, very small” part of the project — only three units on the top floor, amounting to 3,500 square feet.
“There are multiple four-story projects up and down Chapala and on Ortega. Macy’s is much taller than our project,” the architect said. “I created a small, four-story section to create more of a variety of building forms on Chapala Street. When I had all three stories, the building was kind of blocky.”
With his design, he said it gives the building dimension, and actually makes it look like three separate buildings. This, Mr. Meaney said, sets it apart from other structures surrounding it.
Another unique aspect is that it is likely one of the first projects being proposed in the city that doesn’t have onsite parking. The city’s standards were recently updated and do not require onsite parking anymore, so if built, the apartment building would allow residents to use two city parking lots within a block from the complex.
“Housing projects that don’t have parking encourage people to walk and use e-bikes or city transportation,” Mr. Meaney said. He shared a story about a recent project he and his friend worked on, where they offered one parking space per unit. Many spaces sat unused.
“That’s going to be a trend,” the architect said.
He said the idea of tenants walking, biking or riding around Santa Barbara fits the vision of the city, and the lack of onsite parking allows for the open paseos and courtyards “to open off the street into the middle of the project.”
“The city is really supporting State Street. Architects envision our downtown is going to change in the next few years,” Mr. Meaney said. “It’s all of those sketches in that direction that have led us to this concept: pedestrian-friendly situations around courtyards …
“It’s just going to be a very inviting place to live and to experience.”