The proposed 82-unit apartment project for the 700 block of Milpas Street won favorable reviews this week from members of the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review.
Jay Bjorndahl, Ed St. George and Alan Bleecker make up the development team behind the four-story project, which spanned the ABR.
The project is a four-story mixed-use project on a 1.52-acre lot at 701 N. Milpas St. It would include 16 moderate-income units and 1,365 square feet of retail space along with 110 parking spaces.
The meeting mainly focused on exterior design changes since the project was presented to the board a year ago.
“I think you’ve made some good improvements since the last time,” said board member Richard Six.
Board Chairman Kevin Moore said he was impressed with the appearance of the building facing Milpas Street.
“The regrouping along Milpas Street is a success,” Moore said. “There are really only three floors on Milpas Street. That’s appropriate.”
The height of the building is mostly 48 feet, with the tallest part of the building reaching 52 feet.
The project would undoubtedly revolutionize Milpas Street, bringing a four-storey building to a working-class residential and commercial area. The city has approved a development agreement in 2021 to allow St. George and the team to build the project, but is working with the city on design elements.
City council members have backed the development deal as it brings more homes into the supply stock. Santa Barbara must find areas to build 8,001 new units by 2035 – a request from the State of California.
The units would be rental apartments, intended to be affordable by design, but would be rented at market rates, without the units reserved for moderate incomes.
Santa Barbara is perpetually in the grip of a housing crisis because there are more jobs in the city than houses. About 15,000 people commute into the city daily from outside Santa Barbara because housing is cheaper in Ventura, Lompoc, and Santa Maria county.
Although the new building would change the feel and tone of the street, it is envisioned as part of the solution to the housing crisis, and the first of what would likely be many to come along the corridor.
“When I think about it, this building is so different from its surroundings that it’s going to have to stand on its own,” Six said. “Trying to disguise it as a village won’t work.”
Board member Lauren Andersen supported the project, but suggested a different shade of color for the building.
“I have a hard time accepting everything being pure white just because Milpas doesn’t really have a lot of pure white buildings, and if they do, they’re a lot newer and it doesn’t feel like it completes the neighborhood,” Andersen said.
The board gave directions with a 7-0 vote to revisit the project next month. The council asked the architect and development team to make several aesthetic changes, including making the tower “less spindly”; reduce the mass of the overall project; changing parapets and corners of the roof; study the surrounding neighborhood for its colors and integrate them into the project; and providing larger box sizes for proposed shield trees on the side of the building facing Santa Barbara Junior High School, among other suggestions.
St. George told Noozhawk after the meeting that he was happy with the board’s direction.
“This project was originally approved without a single affordable unit, but Alan (Bleecker) and I added a 20% affordable element,” St. George said. “Affordability is exactly what the community wants and needs.”