A rendering of the American Indian Health Services’ community health clinic at the former U.S. Army Reserve Center. | Credit: Courtesy RRM Design Group

Santa Barbara City Council greenlit plans for American Indian Health Services’ community health clinic at the former U.S. Army Reserve Center, located at the edge of Mackenzie Park on the corner of State Street and Las Positas Road.

After passing on the project a year ago and kicking it back to the Planning Commission to take another look and provide comments, City Council heard the issue again on Tuesday, unanimously agreeing to Planning Commission and city staff’s recommendations and moving to rezone the property for use as a nonprofit medical clinic and designate the project a “community benefit project.”

The only tweak made to the proposal — as agreed by all councilmembers and project planners — was to opt for the lower-density residential zoning instead of the originally suggested “medium-density” model. The lower-density option limits possible housing to five dwelling units per acre, as opposed to the medium-density limit of 12 per acre.

The American Indian Health and Services — a nonprofit organization that provides medical, dental, and behavioral health services to more than 7,000 patients in underserved communities — agreed to purchase the two-and-a-half-acre property from the federal government with plans for a permanent site for the community health clinic.

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The building’s current zoning designation does not allow for medical clinics, and City Council’s approval would make amendments in the specific, general, and developmental plans to allow for use as a medical clinic. 

American Indian Health and Services currently operates out of a few scattered spaces at El Mercado Shopping Center, where it has been for nearly three decades, but it is looking to expand into a permanent clinic at the new location after acquiring the property. Early plans include a new facade, keeping the original structures to the building, and adding up to 3,500 additional square feet. The projected cost is about $16 million.

With the approval, the project will make the rounds at Historic Landmarks Commission, the Planning Commission to approve development plans and make recommendations to City Council, and back to the council to adopt Specific and General Plan amendments.

All councilmembers supported the project, given that plans were specific for medical clinics and 100 percent affordable housing, if any, in the future. Mayor Randy Rowse said he was glad to see the space have new life after turning into a “weed garden” in recent years. “That corner deserved improvement for all these years, and I think this is a fabulous idea,” Rowse said.

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