Kristen Sneddon and Michael Jordan | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

As Santa Barbara and the rest of California continue to grapple with an acute housing shortage, city leaders are once again fine-tuning the biggest tool in their toolbox to build more affordable units. This Tuesday, the Ordinance Committee made a set of recommended changes to the Average-size Unit Density (AUD) Program, which was adopted in 2013 with the intention of incentivizing rental projects that would fall within the price range of the region’s working class. Instead, the program has mostly led to more high-end units that continue to push out the “missing middle.”

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The proposed changes focused on creating affordable housing in the downtown core, a strategy nearly all agree would reinvigorate State Street by injecting much-needed energy and capital. They included increasing the maximum building height in the area from 45 to 48 feet, eliminating open yard requirements for AUD projects between Chapala and Anacapa streets, allowing parking to be leased separately from housing, and reducing parking requirements to a maximum of one on-site space per unit.

While the Ordinance Committee ― composed of councilmembers Oscar Gutierrez, Kristen Sneddon, and Michael Jordan ― agreed on most points, Sneddon and Jordan politely butted heads over the height increase and open spaces. Sneddon worried the three-foot addition, which architects had argued would allow for taller ceilings and make small units feel less cramped, could again drive up price. She also expressed concern about losing too much open ground to dense developments.

Architect Brian Cearnal said 48 feet would also allow projects to reach four stories and therefore “pencil” for builders who might otherwise balk at the investment. If he had his way, Cearnal said, he’d allow downtown housing developments to reach 60 feet tall, which is permitted for projects that are designated as a “community benefit,” such as the recently approved, five-story mental-health housing project slated for West Anapamu Street. The Planning Commission had previously given its approval of the proposed changes. The discussion will continue when they are heard by the full City Council in the coming weeks.

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