by Ethan Stewart

A series of public forums discussing the Santa Barbara School
District’s tentative plans to develop employee housing — for
teachers — drew small crowds at La Cumbre Junior High but sparked
plenty of tension on Monday. Faced with significant teacher
turnover in a region boasting some of the highest housing costs in
the nation, the district contracted the Maryland-based development
firm UniDev late last year to conduct an economic feasibility study
on its Hidden Valley property near Veronica Springs and the Tatum
property in the eastern Goleta Valley. After a poll of teachers
found that more than 75 percent described themselves as “more
likely to stay in the district” if housing assistance was
available, UniDev decided to run its development ideas by the
general public at meetings last Friday, Saturday, and again this
past Monday evening. Though the economic feasibility study
addressed five possible outcomes for the two parcels of
land — among them an “as is” sale without development entitlements,
construction of workforce housing with the revenues going to the
district, the development, and sale of market-rate housing — talk
at Monday night’s forum largely centered around plans for
developing the land as affordable housing for district employees.
As UniDev spokesperson Pete Smirniotopoulos explained, “The
district has these two assets that aren’t producing any income and
they want to do something about it.” He went on to describe vague
early-stage plans that ranged from building 65 single-family homes
or 150 multifamily homes at the 14-acre Hidden Valley property to
75 single-family houses or 105 duplexes at the 23-acre Tatum
property. Area residents in attendance attacked the plans, citing
increased traffic and environmental impact, while a perceived
conflict of interest cast doubt on the UniDev study. Superintendent
Brian Sarvis assured the public that the district had “absolutely
no obligation to UniDev” beyond the feasibility study. The firm is
expected to deliver official recommendations and findings to the
entire school board in mid April.


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