Curb Your Mansion

by Nick Welsh

The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously for enforceable regulations rather than permissive guidelines to limit the “mansionization” sweeping certain neighborhoods. The vote came despite an impressive organizing effort undertaken by architects, real-estate agents, homeowners, and many children, who packed the council chambers to argue in favor of guidelines, insisting that the problem posed by a few large remodels was one of bad design rather than square footage. They argued the proposed regulations — floor-area ratios — were too strict and would doom new families to live in ugly, dilapidated tract homes built in the 1950s, or to leave Santa Barbara. That argument proved unpersuasive to council members, who increasingly find themselves forced to resolve remodel conflicts between neighbors that are borne of the ambiguous guidelines in the city’s existing Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. Councilmember Brian Barnwell warned against “guideline creep,” noting that 85 percent of the projects approved by the Montecito Architectural Board of Review exceed that community’s guidelines. He disagreed with critics who complained the regulations would infringe on property rights, saying, “It’s not so much about my property rights as it is about our community.” Councilmember Das Williams argued that the city’s limited housing stock of small homes needed protection to ensure a supply of affordable entry-level homes in the future. And Councilmember Iya Falcone cautioned that without clear enforceable language, the council would be enacting “a full employment for attorneys act.”

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