Efforts to chip away at Santa Barbara’s chronic housing shortage scored a small but important victory Tuesday when the City Council upheld approval of a high-density apartment project at 1818 Castillo Street.
The seven-unit development — a two-unit, two-story duplex on one end of the property with a five-unit, two- and three-story building on the other — had been appealed by nearby residents concerned about parking and neighborhood compatibility. It was the second appeal filed against the project on similar grounds; the first sent designers back to the drawing board last year after the council deemed previous designs too bulky and imposing for the Oak Park neighborhood.
The new layout, with eight “skillfully hidden” parking spots and the third-story element set farther off the street, was deemed vastly improved by the city’s Architectural Board of Review. The project’s average unit size will be 944 square feet. It will replace a single-family home, studio apartment, detached garage, and two sheds currently on the property.
But some neighbors remain unhappy. Eric Wernicke argued to the City Council Tuesday that there are still too few parking spots to accommodate the project’s 19 bedrooms, split among two two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom units. He said there should be at least 12 parking spots. Wernicke also said the development will block views and doesn’t fit with the aesthetics of the neighborhood.
In a polished PowerPoint presentation to the council, Wernicke showed photos of nearby streets lined with parked cars and explained finding an empty spot is already a challenge for neighbors. He charged the city hasn’t done enough to addresses parking concerns for these types of high-density projects, part of Santa Barbara’s Average Unit Density (AUD) program meant to encourage development of affordable rental housing. “Something has to give,” he said. “You can’t just build, build, build and not do something creative to solve the problem.” Wernicke recommended either four parking spots be added to the property where gardens and open spaces are planned or red curbs reduced along Castillo Street.
Architect Detlev Peikert defended the project’s design and called Wernicke’s suggestions over-simplistic and impractical. The council agreed but complimented Wernicke on the thoroughness of his presentation. “We have a severe housing shortage, and we need rental units,” said Councilmember Cathy Murillo. “This is the space for an AUD project.”
Councilmember Gregg Hart said Peikert and his firm, RRM Design, took great pains to rework the project to better fit in the neighborhood, which is in transition and already an eclectic part of Santa Barbara. “This is as diverse a neighborhood in any one single block in the city,” he said. Hart said the AUD program was the result of “a very long community conversation about density and affordability.”