A four-story, 155-residential-unit collection of mixed-use buildings spanning an entire city block in the Funk Zone is preparing to make its way through the city review process, after being postponed twice since June.
The project has been in the works in some form since 2014, when developer Neil Dipaola announced plans for a “funky” take that he said would fit perfectly in the Funk Zone, which at the time was still in its early freeform stages of becoming the local hotspot that it is now.
Back in 2014, Dipaola was one of the hottest new names in local land development; he had led the charge for The Loop in Isla Vista, a modern residential mixed-use apartment building that earned a Governor’s Award for Environmental and Economic Leadership; later, he teamed up with partners Matthew and Wally Hofmann to install the city’s first Airstream hotel on De la Vina Street, a feat that was achieved without displacing any of the mobile home park’s working-class tenants.
Since then, Dipaola has moved on to bigger projects, and the Airstream hotel business, Autocamp, has expanded to include another park in Sonoma County and a 103-suite camp just outside Yosemite National Park.
The Funk Zone development, which has been temporarily referred to by planners as “SoMo” — a play on the New York portmanteau SoHo (south of Houston Street) and Tribeca (triangle below Canal Street), referring to the area “South of Montecito Street” — stretches across the entire city block from Yanonali to Mason streets, between Gray Avenue and Santa Barbara Street. The address 121 East Mason Street has been registered under the company SOMO SB, LLC, since January 2014.
When early plans came out in 2020, they included a more whimsical take that featured rentable live-in sailboats on rooftops and a collection of 125 residential apartments and 153 parking spaces spanning the two-acre site. All of the existing structures, with the exception of the 500-square-foot silo, would be demolished for the development.
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The project came across the Planning Commission and Architectural Board of Review in 2020, with city leaders worrying the project’s size was too big and neighboring business owners concerned about the effect it would have on the area, which was once a dense, somewhat chaotic, but funky hodgepodge of art studios and surf shops that had collected in the area due to affordable rents. Since then, it has become the apple of local developers’ eyes, with wineries and high-end restaurants changing the face of the once industrial Funk Zone.
On the other hand, the project is attractive to city planners and developers looking to address a severe lack of housing in the city, as it scrambles to meet its 8,000-unit allocation before the 2023 Housing Element. The project’s latest plans consist of 231 parking spaces, 13 condominiums, and 142 residential units — 38 of which must be “affordable” — spread across nearly 200,000 square feet.
Dipaola also has a deft hand, making his projects notoriously easy to approve by exceeding housing density requirements with about 74 units per acre and checking every box when it comes to meeting the city’s long-term development goals.
The project was scheduled for a public hearing with the Architectural Board of Review on June 13 and again on July 11, but both hearings were postponed; a future hearing date has been tentatively scheduled for July 25. The development is still far from a final approval, and each governing body will have an opportunity to review the project before approving any building permits.