Community has expressed concern about design compatibility of ‘controversial and unusual project’
The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday will discuss amending a housing project in the 700 block of North Milpas Street, which has been described as a “highly controversial and unusual project since its inception.”
The project, located at 711 N. Milpas St., was approved by the council in March 2019. Originally proposed to include 76 residential units, council members Alejandra Gutierrez and Eric Friedman wrote in the staff report that they had been approached by the project’s new ownership group with a proposed redesign to include a Spanish Mediterranean-style architecture.
“In addition, the revised project would include 16 moderate-income affordable units, totaling almost 20% of the overall project’s 82 units,” the staff report reads. “The project would include 6 additional units overall, and 22 additional onsite parking spaces.”
The overall height of the project would increase by seven feet, to 52 feet overall, to accommodate the new roof and other changes.
Ms. Gutierrez and Mr. Friedman are requesting that council direct the City Administrator and City Attorney work with the project’s new ownership group to prepare a development agreement or other formal streamlined approval process for the proposal.
“It is highly unusual to seek Council approval of streamlined development project amendments outside the ‘normal’ City planning processes,” the council members wrote. “711 N Milpas, however, has been a highly controversial and unusual project since its inception, and it remained so right through Council approval on appeal March 2019.”
Since receiving approval, the project has moved through the building permit process and construction could begin as early as this summer, according to the staff report.
The council members say the revised project “directly addresses” community concerns about design compatibility, while proving moderate-income affordable units and additional parking. With a new height proposed, officials said the trade off on height for a more compatible design is “worthy of serious consideration.”
When the project was discussed last year, residents expressed concern that the project was not “sensitive to the eclectic neighborhood design found in the Milpas Corridor.”
The offer to commit 20% of the units as affordable is 10% more than what is required under the city’s Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program. The project was approved before the council amended the AUD ordinance to require inclusionary affordable housing.
“The redesigned project through use of a development agreement presents the City with an opportunity to streamline a Capital ‘A’ Affordable housing project, which is greatly needed, particularly in a live-work neighborhood like the Milpas Street Corridor,” the staff report reads.
“In order to achieve our goal of a streamlined, effective review process for this already-approved project, we believe that a statutory development agreement should be negotiated between the City and project ownership,” the council members wrote. “We would expect the development agreement – which must be approved by 5 votes of the Council following Planning Commission review as a zoning ordinance – would address all actions necessary to streamline review of the proposed project.”
In other business Tuesday, the council will be presented an ordinance to approve a Water Supply Agreement with the Montecito Water District, in which both parties would take part in a 50-year agreement with the city delivering 1,430 acre-feet of water annually to the MWD.
Both parties have been negotiating an agreement in connection with the 2017 restart of the city’s Charles E. Meyer desalination facility. The MWD approved the agreement during a special meeting last week.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the council will be asked to authorize an $18.9 million increase in appropriations and estimated revenue in the city’s water capital fund, which is funded by a settlement of claims against Southern California Edison for losses sustained by the water utility from the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow.
The council will discuss approving a conveyance pipeline project and authorize the Public Works director to procure and award contracts for construction of the pipeline and ancillary improvements and facilities needed to implement the agreement. In addition, the council will review documents to determine whether further environmental review is required.
The proposed pipeline would be capable of conveying 10,000 acre-feet of water annually. Following negotiations, the MWD agreed to pay nearly 65% of the capital costs associated with the pipeline.
The desal plant currently produces 3,125 acre-feet of water annually. To provide supplies to MWD over the span of the agreement, the production capacity at the facility is expected to increase. To do so, the city plans to administer incremental increases in treatment production capacity consistent with its water supply plan.
“Funding to build the conveyance pipeline project will be fronted by the City and repaid by the (Montecito) District in the future,” the staff report reads. “Staff have successfully secured a $1 million grant from the Department of Water Resources to be used for the construction of the conveyance pipeline.”
If approved, water deliveries will begin Jan. 1, 2022 and the city will receive approximately $4.5 million in revenue annually for deliveries to Montecito.
The city’s Water Commission voted 4-0 on June 18 in support of the agreement.
Tuesday’s meeting will be held virtually, with a stream available at www.santabarbaraca.gov/cap.