In what Santa Barbara City Council members referred to as a “big,” “exciting” and “momentous” day, the council unanimously passed a Historic Resources Ordinance and Historic Resource Design Guidelines on Tuesday.
The guidelines inform property owners of historic resources, historic preservation principles, appropriate treatment of historic resources and the city’s architectural design review process before beginning a project, which the city hopes can lessen the number of steps property owners must take to get project approval.
“I think we all appreciate how important this ordinance is,” Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said. “I think it’s been priority No. 1 in the City Attorney’s Office for at least as many years as I’ve been on council. This is a really big day for it to have gone through this public process and the iterations that it’s been through for review.”
Four major sections dictate the guidelines: introduction, standards and regulations; preservation of historic resources; additions and alterations; and streetscape, landscape and lighting elements. The 320-page document outlines the purpose of the guidelines, changes that can be made, the policy and regulatory foundation of the guidelines, city landmarks, overlay zones, the design review process, preservation principles, benefits and incentives, additions and alterations, and where to find the architectural styles, historic districts and boundary maps.
Councilman Mike Jordan said he “loves the resource,” although he “doesn’t care for most of it.”
“I love the resource manual part of it — like, if you’re going to play with the window, here’s how you do it, and the examples of how you do something somewhere, that you can open up this inch-and-a-half worth of documents and actually go find the subject matter and it helps you do it, rather than just some words on a piece of paper that say, ‘Here’s what we’d like to see, but we’re not telling you what that looks like,’ ” he said. “It narrows the gap between people in the know and people who are struggling to be in the know, and I just think it’s a remarkable piece of work.”
There are 13 acceptable architectural styles according to the document: Adobe, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne, Queen Anne Free Classic, Folk Victorian, English Vernacular and Tudor, American Colonial Revival, Italian Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission Revival and Craftsman.
Property owners building or doing any construction project within designated historic district overlay zones or developing a historic resource, historic structures of merit or city landmarks will be able to use the document to guide them before starting the design review process.
City staff recommends that any projects subject to design review — including exterior alterations or additions to historic resources (including ordinary maintenance and repairs); site and landscape changes involving historic resources; demolition of historic resources; and new construction next to historic resources — use the guidelines.
“I also want to just acknowledge how successful the process, particularly over the last year and a half or two years, has been in terms of stakeholder engagement and the deliberative process of getting this to the finish line,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said. “There’s a lot of people who really feel they were heard in the process of creating this document, and I think that’s the absolute best that we can hope for when it comes to putting something like this together, that the community really feels they had the opportunity to participate in its creation. That’s what I’ve heard from pretty much everyone.”
On the same token, the council unanimously approved proposed amendments related to the Architectural Board of Review, Single Family Design Board and Sign Regulations sections of the city code to maintain consistency with the amendments to the Historic Resources Ordinance approved just beforehand. The adjustments included changing “considerations” to “findings” in the Project Compatibility Analysis to provide clarity as basis for project approval or denial, and prohibiting the introduction of new evidence at council, except when relevant information could not be provided.
City Attorney Ariel Calonne provided an explanation for this decision, saying he believes it’s a “fundamental change the city needs to make in order to assure streamlined, reliable and consistent processes.”
“What this provision is trying to do is make sure that your design experts have a full opportunity to review the matter,” he told council. “We’ve had many instances where applicants have chosen, essentially, to ignore the design boards to come to the City Council. Unfortunately, that kind of process not only disrespects our design bodies, but, in review by a court, becomes extremely suspicious when your expert bodies have not had an opportunity to pass on the issue.”
Mr. Calonne said that currently, the council faces a wide range of surprises at the hearings held during Tuesday’s regular meetings, resulting in delayed decisions.
“I believe — and it’s my legal opinion — that the net result of that process is to work a real unfairness both on the community and the council, and I think it’s been a contributor to the unfair reputation characterizations of 630 Garden St.,” he said. “The effort here is really to streamline, professionalize and smooth out our processes for the benefit of everyone.”