As Santa Barbara looks for ways to deal with sky high rents and its housing shortage, the Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to renegotiate plans for the controversial housing project in the 700 block of North Milpas Street.
The council voted 6-0, with councilmember Meagan Harmon absent, to enter into negotiations for a new development agreement between the city and the property’s new owners.
The project, located at 711 N. Milpas St., was first approved by the council in March 2019.
The project was originally proposed to include 76 residential units. Council members Alejandra Gutierrez and Eric Friedman were approached by the project’s new ownership group with a proposed redesign to include a Spanish Mediterranean-style architecture and expand the height of the building to include an additional 16 moderate-income affordable units.
Ms. Gutierrez and Mr. Friedman brought the project back to city council as they believed it would provide affordable housing at a time when the city needs it the most.
“The city has experienced a housing crisis for a while, like the state of California, and with the pandemic and economic crisis that we’re going to be faced with, housing, even more, is unstable,” said Ms. Gutierrez.
The council did not approve the project outright, but instead directed the city attorney and administrator to negotiate with developers to explore ways the project could be of a greater benefit to the east side community.
“Ultimately, the check is that any draft agreement that would come out of this would come back to city council, and we would need five votes, a supermajority, to approve the development agreement in a public meeting,” said Mr. Friedman.
Ms. Gutierrez and Mr. Friedman said the revised project “directly addresses” community concerns about the original modern design, while providing moderate-income affordable units and additional parking.
“We did add more parking, and we did that by adding parking lifts in areas that were previously tucked under carports. A two-car lift luckily fits in the same space as a one-car carport, so we’ll end up with 110 on-site parking spaces, which is 22 spaces more than what’s required,” said Jarrett Gorin, principal with Vanguard Planning LLC, who represented the developers at the meeting Tuesday.
The affordable units will have the same floor plan design as the market rate units, Mr. Gorin told the council.
“The mix of the affordable units is going to be proportional to the mix of market rate units in terms of bedrooms count, and they’ll be distributed through the project rather than stuck down in the same place together. The only difference between the affordable units and the other units in the project is going to be the rent restriction on the affordable units,” said Mr. Gorin.
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 transition from modern architecture to Spanish style seeks to address those concerns, and will increase the height of the building to 52 feet in some places. The developers will also convert the retail space in the ground floor to fitness and business center for residents.
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 developers told the council that the affordable units will be offered to teachers and first responders. Ms. Gutierrez said this was the main reason she brought the updated project to council, and she stressed the need for affordable housing for those workers as many of them live out of the area.
The developers said they are willing to meet publicly with the Architectural Board of Review for concept review. Mr. Gorin said the development agreement will spell out what developers can expect from project approval and the permitting process.
“We’re not trying to avoid input or review. What we are looking for is some certainty and predictability. We want a commitment from the city that if we can bring the replacement project forward without getting mired for years in the swamp of ABR reviews, re-reviews, re-re-reviews, and the appeals after that, we don’t want to be subject to changing opinions and requirements from decision makers on boards and commissions as new people get appointed,” said Mr. Gorin.
City Administrator Paul Casey and City Attorney Ariel Calonne will meet with developers and return to council with a term sheet laying out the redesign details and review process. The project will then go to the Planning Commission and ABR.