Citing the South Coast’s critical shortage of workforce housing and leaping at the chance to breathe new life into Old Town, the Goleta City Council on Tuesday approved a 175-unit mixed-use development for a farm field just below Hollister Avenue.
The 3-2 split vote came after significant debate over adding yet another project to what’s recently felt like a nonstop assembly line of new construction in the small city. Neighbors arrived in force to express anxiety that the Old Town Village will suck up water and spit out traffic, and they worried the council is sacrificing the character of their beloved community.
“This is not the way we were supposed to be,” said one 35-year resident. “We don’t want to be L.A.; we want to be the Goodland.” “I feel like Goleta’s soul has been sold to the devil,” added another neighbor. “What you call housing I call an out-of-control urban nightmare.”
Former mayor Margaret Connell (an online columnist for The Independent) spoke on behalf of the Goodland Coalition and said 1,500 new residential units are already coming to Goleta. She stated the project’s market-rate homes will do little to address the low-income-housing need. Julia Crookston, who owns the Goodland Kitchen and Market nearby, said she’s lived through ill-advised expansions in San Francisco’s Mission District and Silver Lake in Los Angeles. “Unsupported growth is a disaster,” she said.
Those on the other side of the discussion — like the Goleta Chamber of Commerce and a recent UCSB graduate who said the proposal will be good for people trying to take the step from student to young professional — noted how the project’s mix of townhomes, live-work units, and shopkeeper spaces is designed to attract workers who would otherwise be priced out of the area’s impenetrable housing market. Right now, they argued, the starting salaries of firefighters, teachers, Sheriff’s deputies, and city planners aren’t enough to keep them in town, forcing them to commute from North County or move out of the area altogether.
Bill McReynolds, vice president of Ventura-based development firm City Ventures, said 161 of the units will cost between $400,000-$600,000 and be marketed to locals earning 120-200 percent of the area’s median income, which is $75,400 for a family of four; 14 units are earmarked as affordable. City Ventures is certified to offer FHA loans, allowing buyers to put just 3 percent down, McReynolds also explained. He complimented the city on its GEM (Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet) program and said Old Town Village fits nicely into Goleta’s unique vision for smart growth.
Project planners told the council that the 12-acre property, which sits next to Highway 217 by the Honda dealership on South Kellogg, has a water service agreement to use 86.3 acre-feet of water per year. Last year, it used 24 acre feet. The development will use 28. Traffic consultants said the new living and work spaces will generate an additional 1,100 car trips through the area per day.
City Ventures planning manager Lisa Plowman talked of the project’s green design that features a reclaimed water system, lots of glass for natural light, multiple open spaces, bike storage, a community garden, and private yards or rooftop decks for each unit. McReynolds also stated that City Ventures agreed to give 2.5 acres of the property to the city, at a value of $2.75 million, so the city can extend Ekwill Street as part of a larger traffic-improvement scheme throughout the Hollister area.
During deliberations, Councilmember Michael Bennett said he opposed Old Town Village because it would generate far less tax-revenue than the hotel and conference center that had originally been envisioned for that site — $24,000 a year, which he described as “budget dust,” compared to $2 million a year. In its approval, the council agreed to amend the city’s General Plan to rezone the property from visitor-serving to residential-commercial.
Councilmember Tony Vallejo sympathized with those who complained of steady construction, but he said projects like the Village at Los Carneros and Hollister Village were approved many years ago. “These things aren’t happening all at once,” he said. “Right now we’re overlapping, but we’re almost done.” Vallejo noted Goleta’s extremely low 0.99 percent vacancy rate when he gave his yes vote.
Councilmember Roger Aceves assented as well, excited at a new path that will be built between the property and Hollister Avenue, a five-minute walk away. The foot traffic will funnel directly toward a proposed new civic center and town hall in Old Town, he pointed out. “Assemblymember Das Williams sent a letter in support,” he summed up. “I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but I agree with him on this.”