by Nick Welsh
The final environmental impact report for one of the largest housing projects to hit downtown Santa Barbara — Cottage Hospital’s plan to tear down the former St. Francis Hospital and build 115 new homes in its place — contains no new surprises and no findings that could prove fatal to the project. Because Cottage has pledged to sell 81 of the units to its employees at sub-market rates, the plan enjoys strong support within City Hall. The environmental analysis identified short-term construction noise as one of two significant but unavoidable impacts. Construction is estimated to last 67 weeks.
In addition, the environmental review concluded that the increased traffic generated by the housing development had “the potential to result in a small but significant contribution” to peak hour traffic problems at several downtown intersections. The report expressed skepticism that the cross-town shuttle Cottage has proposed to mitigate the added congestion would do what it promised or that it was legally enforceable. While Cottage’s commitment to affordable housing is historic in dimension, it has sparked heated opposition from neighborhood activists who argue that the old St. Francis hospital should not be demolished, but instead re-used for housing. In addition, they contend, the project is too big for the neighborhood and the dust and diesel emissions during construction will pose a significant health hazard. They have argued for more time to review the final environmental document beyond the August 17 hearing before the Planning Commission, and in that regard won a partial victory. Although the August 17 hearing will proceed as scheduled, no final decision will be made until September 14.