With no dissenting votes cast, the Santa Barbara City Planning Commission enthusiastically approved Cottage Health System’s proposal to build 115 new homes on the six-acre site now occupied by the shuttered St. Francis Hospital. The commissioners voiced strong support for Cottage’s plan to sell 70 percent of the units to its employees at prices substantially below market rates. Some neighborhood activists argued in favor of a smaller project with as many units inside the existing St. Francis building as possible. None of the commissioners present expressed any interest in re-using the St. Francis shell, arguing the relatively low-lying condos proposed by Cottage will be less conspicuous and more desirable. In deference to neighborhood concerns about diesel exhaust and dust during construction, the commissioners required Cottage to use biodiesel fuel.

Santa Barbara’s red-hot housing market shows unmistakable signs of cooling off, as the median price of South Coast homes declined by 4.5 percent in the past year – going from $1.2 million to $1,075,000 – while condo prices remained flat. According to realtor Gary Woods, the number of properties up for sale has about doubled in the last year, and the number of home sales has dropped by as much as 25 percent. “A lot of people figure the market’s topping off, so they’re trying to get out at the top,” he explained. The good news, he said, is that mortgage rates have remained at about six percent despite many interest rate increases over the past year by the Federal Reserve.

Orange County developer Steve Delson hopes to demolish a 1970s cinderblock warehouse at 116 East Yanonali Street in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone and build six sizable live-work lofts in its place. About one-third of the space would be devoted to commercial enterprises – such as a tasting room for a winery owner – and the rest would be residential. Until last year, no residential development was allowed in the Funk Zone because the California Coastal Commission sought to prevent gentrification and protect the area’s touristic function. At the instigation of the Santa Barbara City Council, the Coastal Commission relaxed those rules to allow for some mixed-use housing. Delson said his units would average about 2,300 square feet and cost about $1.5 million.

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