Saturday, June 27, 2009

Plan Santa Barbara gets a public airing : Housing was subject of Thursday meeting


June 26, 2009 7:24 AM

Santa Barbara residents expressed concern Thursday evening over the possibility of higher-density housing being introduced as part of the city's future.

During the second night of a Residential Unit Size Workshop held by Plan Santa Barbara in the Central Library at 40 W. Anapamu St., city planners presented the research they conducted since winter to develop ideas on how to increase the amount of so-called inclusionary housing in the downtown area.

The question they were attempting to answer was, "How do we encourage marketplace affordability?"

Objectives introduced by Planner John Ledbetter included affordable housing and socio-economic diversity, community character and sustainable development.

Sujata Sirrastara presented a financial feasibility analysis, which examined four development scenarios to determine which would bring, at minimum, 15 percent profit to the developer.

The scenarios included the existing scenario and the fourth scenario, which was determined to be the one that was acceptably profitable. The second and third scenarios were not discussed in detail because they did not reach this 15 percent profit.

In this fourth scenario, three options were provided. In two of the options, the maximum height for a housing building was set at 40 feet, and in the third, it was set at 52 feet. In the existing scenario, the limit is 60 feet.

In all of the fourth scenario's options, underground parking was deemed necessary, and the average unit size was 950 square feet. The existing scenario's average unit size is 1,500 square feet.

The main problem with the existing scenario, according to Plan Santa Barbara organizers, is that it allows for no "middle income or workforce housing."

The scenarios were presented with no recommendations made by the panel, and the audience feedback rang almost unanimously skeptical.

"These are too bulky to keep with our small town feel," said one man. "We need to reject Scenario 4 and add a Scenario 5."

The speaker went on to recommend finding someone to build units at a lower price with above-ground parking, which is less expensive than building underground parking.

Another audience member was concerned that by building these higher-density units, Santa Barbara's "charm" would be lost.

"Over-development will make us another Los Angeles," he said.

Another man expressed concern over the realistic demand for such units.

"Who will buy these units?" he asked. He explained that his concern stems from a Santa Barbara stigma of attracting "young, talented folks who come here and get great jobs. Then they have a family and move to Ventura because these smaller units don't work."

The panel assured him that such housing is in high demand.

One audience member said that while he liked the analysis and found it a "useful tool," he questioned the feasibility of a 15 percent profit for this fourth scenario.

A woman pointed out that the fourth scenario still indicated that luxury housing would be required in order to obtain the desired "middle income or workforce housing."

The City Council will vote on what policies to implement to achieve affordable housing next year.

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