Sunday, September 9, 2007

City leaders to discuss growth issues


Santa Barbara city leaders will meet Monday to discuss, provide feedback and consider future action on issues raised in the first round of Plan Santa Barbara public workshops and a community design work session held in July.
Questions at hand swirl largely around growth and development in Santa Barbara — from whether current building projects are consistent with design guidelines to whether future projects should be allowed to exceed height and density limits if they meet specified community needs.

The Santa Barbara City Council and the Planning Commission will examine a summary report of community input gathered from more than 550 comment cards circulated in a citywide mailing, the website and 40 grassroots meetings that involved nearly 1,000 local residents.
A full report on the input from the first phase of Plan SB is expected to be complete by the end of this month. City staff have summarized comments into broad themes, points of consensus and key differences.
Monday's meeting will involve using that input as the foundation for updating development policies, which will be presented in the second round of Plan SB workshops next year.
City leaders will also discuss the results of a community design work session held on July 18 at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion. That event, attended by the City Council, Planning Commission, Architectural Board of Review and Historic Landmarks Commission, as well as concerned community members, discussed existing policies, guidelines and standards of community development and design.
"Participants seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to meet informally to discuss current issues," staff noted in a report.
A key topic discussed at that meeting involved the current use of Urban Design Guidelines, which many felt are not being used to the extent they should. Those in attendance voiced widespread support for requiring that design review boards ensure new projects are consistent with those guidelines, especially in terms of compatibility with surrounding buildings and appropriate scale.
"Many felt that the proposal to limit building heights in [El Pueblo Viejo Historic District] had served as a 'wake-up call' for the ABR, HLC and PC to be more aggressive," staff said.
Some members of the audience expressed interest in reducing onsite parking requirements and using open space for more housing, city staff noted.
However, "most participants felt recently developed projects lack the significant landscaping, open space, setbacks/openness and human scale characteristics that have historically been essential to Santa Barbara's physical beauty," staff said.
Stemming from that discussion are possible changes to review guidelines for the ABR and HLC, specifically requiring that a proposed project is compatible with the architectural character, height, scale and massing of adjacent developments.
City staff will likely request an ordinance amendment to make these short-term changes to the design review process, although further discussion of those issues and ideas are expected take place during next year's Plan SB workshops.
Also expected to enter the Plan SB discussion are potential changes to density standards in the Zoning Ordinance, something city staff characterized as "a much more complex and complicated issue." While city leaders hope to amend the ordinance to encourage smaller units that are possibly rental-only, issues concerning parking, density, setbacks, affordability, open space, historic preservation and energy efficiency are sure to arise.
One suggestion that received widespread support during the first round of Plan SB community workshops and at the July 18 meeting is that the city allow new developments to reach the maximum height allowed by zoning — four stories or 60 feet — if the project provides community benefit or meets community needs.
Those benefits and needs include increasing affordable housing, increasing rental-only housing, exceeding new "green building" requirements or transferring development rights from the Gaviota Coast or other areas in order to preserve open space.
However, staff noted that such changes are problematic in the existing policy framework, explaining that state law prohibits the city from imposing such requirements, which would result in excessive monetary demands not directly related to the project's impacts.
"Some cities, such as San Luis Obispo, are moving in the direction of requiring projects to meet multiple policy objectives ... in order to be approved," city staff noted.
However, San Luis Obispo is operating under a much different development context, since its maximum building height is limited to two stories. In order for Santa Barbara to adopt a similar design process, the city would have to either lower its height restriction to two stories and adopt policy objectives or amend the City Charter, General Plan and Zoning Ordinance to allow buildings to exceed the current four-story/60-foot height limit if policy objectives are met.
Both options raise significant issues that city leaders hope to include in the Plan SB discussion as it moves forward.
Monday's joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission will take place at 2:30 p.m. at the Louise Lowry Davis Recreation Center at 1232 De la Vina St.

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