Upper State Under Attack?

On July 2, the Santa Barbara City Council may unexpectedly change a zoning law that has protected the upper State Street area (USSA) for decades.

Previous public discussions about updating the city’s general plan refrained from challenging the special-district status of upper State (codified in the SD-2 zoning ordinance). Likewise, the recent notice announcing the July 2 public hearing about municipal code amendments didn’t call out SD-2 as one of those ordinances proposed to be changed.

Thus the introduction of new uptown standards for off-site parking, front setbacks, and building heights would be based on the de facto repeal of an existing ordinance without properly solicited public input and a possibly-needed environmental review.

The radical changes for the upper State Street area would result from applying the development standards of the Average Unit Size Density Incentive program (AUD). Along with other community organizations, Citizens Planning Association will urge City Council not to apply Average Unit Size Density Incentive standards in the SD-2 overlay zone for the following reasons:

• The Average Unit Size Density Incentive program would substitute one space per dwelling unit and no guest parking for the current requirement, which demands two spaces for each unit with two or more bedrooms, as well as one guest parking space per four residential units. In the upper State Street area, where no public parking structures exist, such a change would lead to serious consequences to the surrounding streets and commercial parking lots unable to accommodate a large number of additional vehicles belonging to new residents and their visitors, as well as to delivery and service personnel.

• The Average Unit Size Density Incentive program would eliminate the now required 20-foot setback in front of two- and three-story buildings, and also reduce interior and rear setback requirements, as well as certain requirements for open living space. As a result, both landscaping opportunities and opportunities for children’s outdoor recreation would be greatly diminished in an area most of which is located far from public parks. The proposed reduction of front-setback requirements would also preclude the option of adding dedicated transit lanes to Upper State Street while still providing some setback to separate the air and noise pollution of heavy traffic from the residential or mixed-use developments.

• The Average Unit Size Density Incentive program would permit four stories instead of a maximum of three. It would also drop the requirement that the total floor area of any building remain under the acceptable floor area of a two-story building. This would result in every new building’s increased potential for changing the area’s character by blocking mountain views or at least diminishing the typical uptown streetscape’s sense of openness.

Reducing the SD-2 requirements for setbacks, open space, and building height would obviously counteract the production of smaller buildings.

As for the other major goal of the Average Unit Size Density Program, the production of ownership housing which may prove affordable to the middle class workforce, it can indeed be hoped that the relatively modest AUD homes would be “affordable by design” even though the sale and resale prices would be determined on the open market. Furthermore, the experimental nature of the AUD program, sunsetting after 8 years or the construction of 250 units (whichever occurs first) would give the community a chance to determine if the program should continue because its benefits have outweighed any harm it may have caused.

For the thousands of people who live, work, shop, or have other reason to spend time in the Upper State Street Area, the question arises: Should we construct permanent buildings and face the lasting problems associated with the de facto repeal of the SD-2 standards for the sake of an experimental program which has a better chance to succeed downtown for many reasons?

If you think you know the answer and want to share it with City Council, write to them or come to the hearing which starts at 2 p.m. on July 2.


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