Three Housing Developments Are Thinking Big in Santa Barbara

A Trio of Project Proposals Is Pushing Limits, Going Four Stories High for Much-Needed Housing

Tucked behind Haven Barber Shop and Boom Boom Bike Room is the proposed 29-unit Mission Paseo development near Mission and De la Vina streets. | Credit: Bobby Walker Design, LLC.

A trio of proposed housing and residential mixed-use developments — all four stories tall and adding up to a potential 155 residential units — came across the Architectural Board of Review on Monday, each with its own take on how to provide much-needed housing in Santa Barbara.

While two of the potential projects are still in the early stages of pre-application consultation, the third — located at 425 Garden Street, the former home of Kirby Morgan Dive Systems — returned for its second concept review after being sent back to the drawing board during its first showing back in November 2021. 

Back then, the contemporary big-box design was blasted by the board, and the project’s applicant Greg Reitz worked with Canadian architect Sean Day to start from scratch, leaning on the city’s traditional Spanish Colonial aesthetic for inspiration on the revised proposal.

Now the design is split into separate buildings, bridged together and repackaged with white stucco, red-tile rooftops, and a public courtyard facing Garden Street — “a more modern take with Spanish elements,” Reitz said.

The initial design for 425 Garden Street (left) has been swapped out for a two-building design (right) with white stucco, red-tile rooftops, and a public courtyard facing Garden Street. | Credit: Sean Day, SDCo

The new design is also a little shorter but still just under 48 feet, the maximum allowable height for a four-story structure. It’s proposed to have 36 units in total — 30 market-rate, two moderate-income, and four very-low-income units — but no on-site parking, something outside of the ABR’s scope of review but nonetheless important to almost every member of the public who spoke during public comment.

“Parking is not in our purview, but it is a prevailing comment from neighbors and others,” said Boardmember Leon Olson. “So, as I said the last time, it just can’t go unmentioned.”

Since the proposed site is within the Central Business District, it is not technically required to provide any parking under the city’s Average Unit-Size Density ordinance. Instead, the project plans for two “parking pockets” for deliveries and rideshare drop-offs for residents.

Though the board did approve of the redesign efforts, there were still concerns over the “scale of the project relative to the site,” and the project was continued for its next concept review with the city’s Planning Commission on September 15, where it is expected to receive additional comments on what needs to be addressed before the project can move forward.

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About six blocks away at 418 North Milpas Street is the proposed Milpas Gardens, a 90-unit four-story mixed-use building made up of 34 studios, 44 one-bedroom apartments, a dozen two-bedroom units, and over 6,000 square feet set aside for retail space and an on-site bed and breakfast. Fifteen of the residential units will be “below market rate” — nine very-low-income and six moderate-income units— and 75 of the units will be offered at market rate or higher.

The project was designed by Jan Hochhauser of HBA Architecture and Planning, and the name Milpas Gardens is a reference to the property’s history as La Sumida Gardens, first opened at the location in 1972. It is the tallest of all three proposals, with the designers asking to be considered as a “community benefit project” to allow for an additional six feet for a total maximum height of 52 feet. 

On the other side of town near Mission and De la Vina streets, tucked behind Haven Barber Shop and Boom Boom Bike Room, is the proposed 29-unit Mission Paseo development. Designed by Bobby Walker of Tacoma, Washington, the new four-story apartment structure would include 20 one-bedroom units and six two-bedroom units; a separate addition with three 600-square-foot lofts would be built into an existing commercial building on the property. All current commercial space — including the barbershop and bike shop — will be retained, according to project planners from Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services (SEPPS). 

The proposed Milpas Gardens project is a 90-unit four-story mixed-use building with over 6,000 square feet set aside for retail space and an on-site bed and breakfast. | Credit: HBA Architecture and Planning

The development features private decks for the apartments, a common roof area, and an “outdoor public paseo,” accessible from the driveway between the commercial storefronts. The preliminary designs use the typical white stucco and tile roofs, with three stories of apartments stacked atop a floor-level parking garage offering 21 residential parking spaces. Twenty-two more spots will be available for commercial and surface parking, for a total of 43 spaces.

All three proposals are attempts to keep Santa Barbara’s strict design guidelines and expand them onto a larger scale, stretching the boundaries of what’s possible in a large-scale housing development, especially as the city is scrambling to provide adequate housing for its residents. And while all three together provide a large number of units, the city is still far behind on its goal of providing housing for low and very-low income residents. And with most developments in the pipeline opting for the minimum of 10 percent affordable housing, it may force a change in the demographics of who can afford to live in Santa Barbara.

The Mission Paseo and Milpas Gardens developments are expected to submit official project applications addressing comments left by the ABR, after which the projects will return for a proper concept review.

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