by Ethan Stewart
After nearly a year of researching and polling local teachers, UniDev finally presented the draft results of a controversial feasibility study to the Santa Barbara School Board about the possibility of building high-density affordable homes for school employees on two district-held properties. The presentation was attended by nearly 75 neighbors of the Hidden Valley and Tatum properties, all of whom — despite living in Santa Barbara and Goleta, respectively — expressed their concern and upset over the possibility of increased density in their neighborhoods.
Faced with tight budgets in both the elementary and high school districts, as well as annual drops in attendance and teacher retention difficulties, the district contracted UniDev — a Maryland-based development firm — to conduct a study on the building potential of their 12.5-acre Hidden Valley holding and the 22.8-acre Tatum site. A majority of this week’s hearing was dedicated to the explanation of high-density affordable teacher housing with 99-year ground leases. The 75-page study suggests that the Hidden Valley area could generate anywhere from $8.6-$20.1 million. For the Tatum site, UniDev speculates funds generated could run from $11-$25.5 million. However, it was the increased density and affordable options that was the subject of ire for dozens of attendees. Speakers rallied against the increase in traffic and resulting safety issues, as well as the loss of beautiful open space. Several speakers questioned the integrity of the study, as UniDev stands to make 6 percent of any revenue generated from building projects. Their concerns were echoed by board member Dr. Bob Noel, who said, “Structurally you don’t go to a company that has vested interests to get unbiased answers.” This week’s hearing marked the beginning of a 60-day comment period on the draft study that will conclude later this fall with a public presentation of UniDev’s final results.