Friday, July 24, 2009

Planning commission gets earful on high density housing : Plan Santa Barbara's 'Scenario 4' comes in for heavy criticism


July 24, 2009 7:08 AM

Public ire over high density construction in the downtown area was directed at the Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday afternoon.

Workshops held for the Plan Santa Barbara project in June presented the public with a summary of its economic feasibility and an unofficially recommended "Scenario 4," which, if followed, requires construction of 60 units per acre.

After a brief presentation by John Ledbetter, the principal planner for the Plan Santa Barbara project, on Mobility Oriented Development Areas and a few questions from commission members, the floor was opened to the public, who largely railed against the presented recommendations.

"I was extremely disappointed with the workshops," said Cathy McCammon. "It feels like the public was somewhat left out. The consultant didn't understand that Santa Barbara doesn't want massive monstrosities like on Chapala (Street)."

Jean Holmes spoke on behalf of the Allied Neighborhoods Association and was one of many to refer the commission to a separately devised "Scenario 5," by Gil Berry, who calls for a density rate of 22 units per acre.

"Clearly this study is not the answer to our problem," she said.

Connie Hannah, representing the League of Women Voters, compared Plan Santa Barbara to Chapala One, a mixed-use development project, which opened its doors in July, 2008.

"It's too tall, it's too massive," she said firmly. "We believe there has to be other alternatives."

Mr. Berry spoke and presented his own solution to the need for affordable housing in the city.

"The report concludes that high density is required," he said. "There is a very viable alternative; it's called the 'affordable by design' model."

Mr. Berry said his alternative "would allow a density of 22 units per acre instead of 60, which is clearly unacceptable for this community."

Other members of the public insisted that employers should supply living quarters to solve the affordable housing deficiency.

"The only way affordable housing can be made available is if housing is subsidized by employers," said Kellam Deforest.

Despite the overwhelming majority of those who spoke being heavily set against the plan, there were a few -- spearheaded by the Community Environmental Council -- who were in support of Scenario 4.

"People in my demographic aren't often able to come to a meeting in the middle of the day," said CEC member Megan Birney, "but there are a lot of us."

She pushed for the environmental advantages of the proposed scenario, saying, "Denser development has a smaller carbon footprint."

Michael Chiacos, who also represented the CEC at the meeting, went so far as to recommend even broader changes for the city, asking whether the widening of 101 between Milpas Street and Hot Springs is "really a good use of tax dollars."

In response to this question, the word "yes" could be heard loudly whispered from throughout the room.

The commission itself had concerns about the proposed scenario and Mobility Oriented Development Areas, which are the transit-friendly areas in which these higher density units would be built.

Chair Stella Larson addressed what she implied is a white elephant, the issue of "community character vs. community goals."

Mr. Ledbetter quickly answered her by refuting that these issues compete and insisting that they can both be maintained, but he admitted that at times they do conflict.

Commissioner Charmaine Jacobs expressed support for the scenario, noting that she sees similarity between current recommendations and past development in Santa Barbara.

"It's applying something that people like and use in a commercial district to our residential district," she said.

Ms. Larson emphasized the importance of maintaining the charm of Santa Barbara.

"My main concern is that aesthetic changes will be driven by lifestyle changes," she said.

Later in the day, the commission approved an application to build an eight-lot residential subdivision with a density of five units per acre at 230 Lighthouse Rd.

For more information on Plan Santa Barbara, visit

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