A team of around 40 neighbors and concerned community members gathered at 825 De la Vina St. in Santa Barbara Monday afternoon as city council members toured the property.
The community members held signs with phrases such as: “How would you like it if this was in your backyard?” “Too big” and “No privacy.”
Their complaints surround a 21-unit, mixed use development by DMHA, which will bring a four-story structure to a neighborhood of primarily two-story homes.
Today, Santa Barbara City Council will hold a public hearing on the project, and the neighbors are planning on calling in their concerns.
The Architectural Board of Review approved the design in January and issued a final approval on March 22.
But the property’s neighbor Donna Mrotek appealed the decision on March 31, citing neighbors’ concerns that the building doesn’t fit in with the homes surrounding the property.
“The completion of this project breaks several regulations that were adopted to protect existing property owners and to maintain current historic and urban character,” she wrote in her appeal. “The city is ignoring many of these codes to allow a structure to be built that is oversized for the lot.”
Neighborhood compatibility should have been argued within the 10-day window for appeals of the design back in January, the city’s report says.
City Council can consider two other complaints: historic resources and story poles.
Ms. Mrotek argued the new development would be too close to structures of merit, but the city architectural historian deemed that no historic structures would be impeded by the new building.
The neighbors inquired about story poles during the city council’s walkthrough Monday. Usually, a developer will map out the height of the building with poles, but ABR waived that requirement because the architect provided numerous 3D renderings.
The city is recommending that the council denies Ms. Mrotek’s appeal.
Ms. Mrotek was unable to attend the protest, but her daughter Keisha Mrotek represented her mom’s stance.
“I want to make it clear that we’re not against any building but that we just want it to not be as intrusive on the existing neighbors. Because we are individuals who live here and have lived here a long time,” Keisha Mrotek told the News-Press.
The protestors didn’t seem aggressive. They didn’t yell or stomp. They just appeared disappointed.
One pointed out his home to councilmembers, a multi-family house located behind the property.
Neighbors’ concerns have impacted the design of the development, said Ed de Vicente, the project’s architect.
“Many of these neighbors spoke at those early hearings, and we revised the design. And in the end, the ABR, for final approval, said it was an exemplary four-story project,” he told the News-Press.
To address concerns, the developers removed patios on the back of the building that may have been a privacy concern and pushed the edges of the building away from the back of the lot a few feet.
The lot, which now serves as surface parking, will be enveloped by the proposed structure. As a mixed-use building, it doesn’t need to leave large gaps between the building and the property line.
To make the building less intimidating from street level, he pushed back the fourth story so it isn’t visible from the front elevation.
The edit makes the fourth story invisible in DMHA’s rendering of the street-level view, which is posted at the front of the property. It looks like a three-story structure, which neighbors say is deceiving.
Keisha Mroteck received one notification of development, in April 2020, and didn’t hear more from the city. Some of her neighbors spoke up during public meetings, but many didn’t know what was going on, she said.
Mr. de Vicente felt like his team was transparent throughout the process, putting in extra hours to provide many building mock ups.
“We would never apologize for the project or the design; we think it’s a good project,” he said. “We see this (pushback) often when you get a new or project in a neighborhood that tend to be more catalytic.”
Neighbors have ideas to make the development a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Some mentioned more parking, family housing or more affordable units. (Currently, the plan includes two moderate-income units.)
“Property owners do have a right to develop real property, but it should be in keeping with the standard of the previous standard to the community,” Gary Yencich said. “And I feel like this is not the scale of the scope, especially the height of it.”
Ideas varied slightly between the approximately 40 protestors, but all agreed that four stories, while up to code, is too high for the neighborhood.