Slowly but surely, Vanguard Planning LLC’s housing project for 711 N. Milpas St. is advancing through the approval process to begin construction.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, the project’s development agreement term sheet was approved by a 6-1 vote.
The revised term sheet includes 16 moderate-income affordability units, a more traditional, Spanish Mediterranean-style, a height increase to 48 feet with some architectural components reaching 52 feet and 22 additional parking spaces via parking lifts.
Both the developers and city officials stated the importance of the community benefit of this housing project.
“Our goal is to provide moderate-income affordable housing, along with market rate housing,” said Jarrett Gorin, principal with Vanguard Planning LLC. “The city is desperately behind on meeting its requirements set by the state, so we are trying to provide some housing, which we really need.”
Because the apartments will be located downtown and near Santa Barbara Junior High School, the developers hope to house teachers and first responders in the 16 moderate-income units. This can be done by partnering to create employer-assisted housing, and Mr. Gorin told the News-Press the developers have already had interest from businesses.
“It was important to provide something that was a community benefit beyond what the normal requirements are,” he said. “It (16 units) is twice what the city requires. The city requirement is normally 10% and we’re providing 20%.”
In addition to the community benefit of employer-assisted housing, the project also must follow the code requirement of roofs available for solar panels.
“We’ll put them on every available area of roof that they fit,” Mr. Gorin said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Gorin added that the developers will also build a sidewalk with direct access to the school, which he called a “dramatic improvement for safety,” turning that area of Ortega Street from a dead end into formal pedestrian access.
Out of the 65,000 square-foot area the developers have to work with, they left 27,000 square feet of area outside the building, so construction vehicles will be able to park on site so as not to inhibit other residents from parking or walking through.
The project was praised by the majority of the city council members, especially council member Alejandra Gutierrez, who represents District 1 where the development will be built.
She stated that three key things sold her on this project: affordable housing for first responders and teachers; creating a safe sidewalk; and the addition of people living in the area to help the local economy.
“That is an area that is very abandoned and most of the time, that’s where a lot of the fights break out,” Ms. Gutierrez said.
Council member Mike Jordan called the area at the dead end of Ortega Street a “post World War II, poorly asphalted, without sidewalk, neglected dead end.”
“This will be a benefit not only to access the Junior High, but access to parking and sidewalk improvements for the surrounding community,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tempore Kristen Sneddon was the one member who voted against approving the term sheet for the project. She told the council and developers she’s “just not ready” to approve it.
“Sixty-six market rate units doesn’t offset 16,” she said. “It will gentrify… It will set a precedent… I’m not seeing the extraordinary benefits.”
Mr. Gorin said Ms. Sneddon’s concerns were similar to those in opposition to new local housing projects.
“Council member Sneddon and her concerns are the standard concerns of many that have opposed housing projects for years in Santa Barbara,” Mr. Gorin told the News-Press. “I’m glad the rest of the council takes protection of housing seriously and is making it a priority. Her vote crystallized her view on housing issues.”
He added that while the timeline of the project is difficult to predict with so many steps to approve and obtain building permits, the very earliest they could begin construction would be fall of 2021.