After another lengthy housing discussion, the Santa Barbara City Council directed staff to initiate an economic feasibility study of proposed building size standards determined by floor-to-lot area ratio.
A consultant will conduct the study and consider the proposed FAR numbers, but also find whatever is feasible for workforce and affordable housing. Council also directed staff to come back with incentives for greater inclusionary numbers, and to review what other additional incentives could be provided to developers to provide more moderate-level workforce housing.
The city’s draft FAR map split council members — some wanted the tallest FAR (the State Street corridor) to be 3.0 (larger projects to fit four stories), and have the rest be lower, but others wanted the tallest at 4.0 (five stories) or however high it needs to be to develop more affordable units.
“I want housing in our downtown core,” Council member Meagan Harmon said. “I think as a council, as a community, we’ve spoken very strongly about the need to have housing in our downtown, and at a certain point, we have to set policy that will get us to housing downtown.”
However, Council member Kristen Sneddon expressed concerns regarding buildings that are too large, and said some of the city’s current large buildings should be used for housing before more are built.
“The FAR has the potential, if the number is low enough, to keep that balance of preserving mountains, skies and views or more circulation and having view corridors,” she said. “If that FAR number is too large, then you lose both of those.”
She said she doesn’t think numbers higher than 3.0 (more than four stories) are “preserving the character of Santa Barbara.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo then proposed sending the city’s draft map — which has the maximum number of floors set at four — to the consultant reviewing the feasibility, along with another set of numbers bumping each FAR number up by 0.5, and bumping up the State Street corridor by 1.0. This would give developments on State Street the ability to construct a five-story building.
“I like a more general charge to the consultant saying, ‘Give us a bunch of options for how we can increase housing production in the workforce category, but especially in low-income and very low,’” the mayor said.
The economic feasibility analysis will include building size standards, inclusionary housing requirements, a city density bonus ordinance update, affordable housing policies and procedures update, a review of economic implications of all efforts and how they align with city policies and grant funds available for analysis.
Council member Eric Friedman said that the council needs to look at the balance between traditional Santa Barbara and meeting affordable housing goals.
“We need to get these numbers right,” he said. “We don’t want to underperform … We don’t want to overdo it so we lose the character of our city.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Oscar Gutierrez echoed the importance of balance, but said he was conflicted between the two.
“I’m trying to respect what my residents have been telling me of what they feel is appropriate for this unique community we live in,” he said. “I keep getting reminded whenever I have people come to visit about how special this place is … how beautiful our skyline is and how it varies from other cities. I’m worried as well that if we build too high, we’re going to lose that element.
“I do want to build more — I just don’t feel completely confident we’re going to see these developers agree to have more affordable housing.”
The council agreed to extend the current Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program until the feasibility information can be reviewed, which is expected to take several months.