Despite a last-minute skirmish over key details, the Santa Barbara City Council finally and unanimously adopted an experimental plan to discourage developers from building large luxury condos and to encourage them — through complex new and optional zoning rules — to build smaller and cheaper accommodations. The plan will allow higher building densities for developers who build small, plus significantly relaxed parking requirements. Currently, residential and rental housing developments are required to come equipped two parking spaces per unit. This increases the land cost of development and expands the mass of development footprints. Under the new regime, participating property owners can now opt to provide just one parking spot, providing they abide by other guidelines designed to promote the smaller-but-cheaper-and-more-plentiful outcome.
This parking proviso, however, has been hugely controversial, pitting councilmembers more concerned with preserving neighborhood character against those seeking to maximize affordable housing opportunities. Leading the former camp has been Councilmember Dale Francisco, who insisted on last-minute changes that would limit the program’s applicability in neighborhoods located behind outer State Street and Oak Park to only rental projects. No parking incentives, he and his supporters have insisted, are warranted for market rate for sale housing. This change clearly stuck in the craw of the council majority, but passage required a five-vote super majority; it was either compromise or stalemate.
Leading the charge for compromise was Councilmember Bendy White, who noted that the changes would only affect a small number of properties. He also observed — with considerable satisfaction — that more rental housing developments had been proposed in the past year alone than City Hall has seen in the past decade. That, he said, was “unusual and exciting.” The new experimental program has a shelf life of eight years or 250 units, whichever comes first. After that, the council will determine to what extent, if any, the new development incentives spark the creation of affordable housing and at what cost, if any, to the surrounding neighborhoods.