High-density housing program may move to lower State Street

Cade Petrie, Staff Writer

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Earlier this month, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission met to decide the future of their 2013 Average Unit-sized Density housing program. Acknowledging the failure to fully implement it at Milpas Street, the Commission is looking towards downtown as a new location for a revitalized version of the program. 

Former Mayor of Santa Barbara Sheila Lodge believes Milpas should no longer be a target of the program, stating: “It’s an older part of the community with its own character, and I don’t think it should be changed.” 

Due to problems with the original program, parts of it are still under amendment, including the part of the older version which required developers to build a parking space in addition to each unit they built, at a one-to-one ratio. The Council is considering adding a flat fee for developers to pay in lieu of building these parking spots. 

Proponents of moving the housing plan to downtown say that it would attract young professionals to the area, partly for the drinking, shopping, and restaurants, but also for housing. It would also provide a newer and closer customer base for the merchants already there, as well as a more efficient use of the retail space downtown, of which Senior Assistant to the City Administrator Nina Johnson says there is a third too much of, that should be “repurposed for housing, or creative office space.”

It could also mean closing part of State Street to vehicle traffic. But, parking and transportation manager Rob Dayton says that though there is friction towards the program in many parts of the city, “the least amount of friction is in the downtown.” 

Still, statewide pressures to build 3,000 new housing units cannot be fulfilled through construction solely in the central business district, as people like Planning Commissioner John Campanella have claimed. Campanella is also concerned that the incentive to build rental apartments near Milpas instead of condos is lower than it should be, which he says will contribute to gentrification of the area. The proposed units at Milpas were market-rate and on the smaller side, raising questions on whether they were truly for working-class families.

At the heart of the debate is whether Santa Barbara will be a town for working-class families or a town of expensive studio apartments for young professionals. 

Rachel Elliott, a business minor who spends quite a bit of time on lower State, supports the idea. “It gives access to the things that potential residents need most. They will be within walking distance of the high percentage of businesses that operate downtown … which will decrease traffic and pollution and cut living costs for those opting to walk.” She also stated that “the money saved can then be put toward housing, and the leftover funds can be put toward local businesses.” 

The Planning Commission will be meeting with the City Council on Nov. 14 for a joint meeting to decide the future of the program.