Neil Dipaola
Paul Wellman (file)

A plan to build 125 rental units on a large parcel of land in Santa Barbara’s so-called Funk Zone was warmly received by Santa Barbara’s stylistically persnickety Architectural Board of Review (ABR) last week, but no final determination was made whether the plans ​— ​still conceptual and far from complete ​— ​were compatible with the neighborhood by Gray Avenue and Mason Street.

Developer Neil Dipaola has dropped prior plans to include a hotel as part of his sprawling mixed-use development, maxing out instead on rental housing. Dipaola said existing zoning allows him to build 47 large condos but that he’s more interested in building rental housing. To pencil out financially, he claims, he needs to build more units ​— ​on average 600 square feet ​— than Santa Barbara zoning, even with maximum bonus densities for affordability, allows. In addition, Dipaola is seeking permission to build 13,000 square feet of shops and restaurants and 9,100 square feet of light industrial space, some of which would be earmarked for area artists.

Gone from his latest plans were the development’s signature industrial storage containers and Airstream trailers, but retained are four sailboats to be perched on top of the four-story development’s roof. Three of those boats have been described as cabana space for the rooftop pool. While Dipaola wows city taste commissars with high-octane style points, city planners take a more cautious view. According to city planning documents, nothing more than three-story buildings are allowed in that neighborhood, and Dipaola is asking for four.

Under existing zoning, Dipaola can build no more than 47 rental units on the property, and even when density bonuses are factored in, the max is 67, not the 125 he’s asking for. Likewise, city planners say Dipaola needs to provide at least 291 parking spaces, and he’s proposing 179. Dipaola is availing himself of a state law that rewards developers seeking to build affordable housing with certain incentives and concessions they deem necessary to make the project economically feasible.

The extent to which that law trumps City Hall’s rules and regulations has yet to be determined, but city planners contend the densities Dipaola is seeking overcompensates him for the financial sacrifice he’s making by building 10 below-market rentals. Resolution of those issues remains many months away. Next week, the ABR will take another look to determine whether the proposed development is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.


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