After 16 hours of deliberations, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission voted 6 to 1 in favor of new housing densities as high as 68 units per acre throughout downtown, along transit corridors, in commercial neighborhoods, around Milpas Street, and along Haley and Gutierrez streets. Current zoning — at least on paper — allows a maximum of 27 units per acre. The Planning Commission vote was part of a grueling two-day session about changes proposed to the city’s general plan. While not binding, the commission’s string vote carries weight with the City Council, which will address the same issue October 26.
The Planning Commission majority is hoping to reward developers willing to build smaller — and presumably more affordable — units with increased density allowances. In these instances, developers would be allowed to build as many as 45 units per acre on land otherwise zoned for 27. If the developers are building either rental properties or housing for their own employees, the Planning Commission recommended even higher density allowances, up to a maximum of 68 units. Driving the planning commissioners is a sense of urgency about the lack of affordable housing. They want the new plan to create real incentives for developers to build genuinely affordable — but not subsidized — housing. “This is not just some concept, some-pie-in-the-sky dream,” said Commissioner John Jostes, who led the charge. “I think our action can attract developers to build affordable housing.” But Commissioner Sheila Lodge, the sole holdout, expressed concern the commission had gone too far. “I would have liked to start with downtown. If it worked there, then we could talk about doing it elsewhere,” she said.