Monday, November 5, 2007

Goleta approves big project; gets affordable units


Bill Clinton was one year into his first term as president of the United States when the Sumida Gardens Project first saw the light of day in 1994.
In its 13-years of churning in the planning process, the project has been taken apart and reassembled at least twice and the unincorporated Goleta become the City of Goleta.

With that in mind, last night’s Goleta City Council meeting bordered on historic, after the council voted 4-1 to approve the project, which will include nine different buildings, 200 residential units -- 34 of which will be classified affordable -- and a price tag of more than $40 million.
“We’re excited because it’s a big affordable housing project,” said Goleta City Manager Dan Singer.
The only aspect of the project that’s pending, is how much money the city will kick in to subsidize the affordable housing side of the project.
As proposed, The Towbes Group, Inc., the owner of the project, is asking for $6.8 million in Redevelopment Agency funding. About $3.5 million of this would be provided up front and the remainder over several years.
The council will decide how much it wants to contribute during an afternoon meeting on Nov. 19.
Singer said if the council decided it didn’t want to subsidize the project, it could possibly be derailed. He said the need for subsidies arises from the reduced rent the owner will receive from the affordable units.
The cost of a one bedroom unit in each of the categories are: $613 per month for the very low category; $747 for the low category; $1,282 in the moderate category and at market rate, the rent would be $1,550.
Councilman Roger Aceves seemed optimistic about the project moving forward and noted that without subsidies, projects like this aren’t financially viable.
“That’s the only way we can guarantee workforce rentals,” Aceves said of subsidizing projects.
Fourteen of the affordable units will be classified very low income, 10 low income and 10 moderate income. The affordable units will be rent restricted for 55 years.
While the majority of the council, and those who addressed the council during public comment were in favor of the project, some were disappointed in the direction the project has taken over the years.
Councilwoman Jonny Wallis noted that the original project, which was approved by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on Nov. 2, 1994, called for 176 affordable units in 12 buildings.
The second incarnation of the project, which was approved by the County Planning Commission on Oct. 24, 2001, would have allowed for 200 total units, 100 of which would have been classified affordable.
The whittling down of affordable units from nearly 200 to 34 is what prompted Wallis to vote no.
But Singer said if the earlier projects were possible, they would have been built.
Singer noted the costs of construction have skyrocketed since the project was first proposed and would have therefore been in the owner’s best interest to build when first approved.
“The fact is it was never built,” Singer said. “If it was achievable back then why wasn’t it built?”
The council will also conduct a second reading of an ordinance that will rezone the property, which is located at 5505 and 5585 Overpass Rd.
The nine buildings will be located on 10.2 acres and once built, will include nearly 200,000 square feet of living space.

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