Ellen Kokinda | Credit: City of Santa Barbara

In Santa Barbara’s heated housing climate, the Single Family Design Board has unexpectedly become the battleground for smaller projects, where property owners are typically looking to add a second story or an additional unit to their already-existing single-family homes.

But in recent months, these projects, which usually don’t get much attention, have become prime targets for residents worried about the effects of increased density in their neighborhoods. In the past few months alone, the City Council has heard four of these appeals against projects already approved through the review process — an increase that has caused strain on an already overworked and understaffed Planning Department — and in response, city officials are considering retooling the process for appeals to ensure that smaller issues can be addressed without the back-and-forth of controversial appeals.

City of Santa Barbara Design Review Supervisor Ellen Kokinda explained these changes to the Ordinance Committee this week, outlining a few options the city could implement to address the influx of appeals, starting with rerouting the appeals of Single Family Design Board project approvals to the Planning Commission instead of directly to the City Council, where the hearings have been stacking up in the past year.

Making the switch and sending appeals to the Planning Commission would allow the appellants arguing against larger projects to make their case in a public hearing without bringing every appeal to the City Council.

“The number of appeals is trending upward,” Kokinda said. In the past three years specifically, she explained, projects that are increasing density or height “are starting to create a little bit more neighborhood friction, and that’s one of the reasons that we think we’ll continue to see more.”

When the Single Family Design Board was created in 2007, it was meant to alleviate the workload of the Architectural Board of Review. By design, the board was supposed to take over review for projects on single-family homes that were “not historic.” But since then, the city has slowly added onto the board’s responsibilities to include “things they had never necessarily done before,” she said.

Changing the appeal process would also keep projects that have already been approved out of the “waiting zone,” where developers are prevented from obtaining permits for starting construction until all appeals are heard — a process which could extend the project timeline up to four months.

The three members of the Ordinance Committee expressed support for the amendments, but sent the issue forward to the full council for deliberation before approving any changes officially.

If the council follows the staff’s recommendation, the city will start by approving a change to send appeals of Single Family Design Board decisions to the Planning Commission, after which the city will begin to look at a number of other changes to streamline this process, including “eliminating design review triggers for non-integral projects” and only allowing appeals during one step of the process (currently, appeals can be filed upon Project Design Approval and Final Approval).


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