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A developer’s perspective on the Average Unit-Size Density (AUD) Program

NewChannel 3 reported on the City of Santa Barbara’s Average Unit-Size Density (AUD) Program at the beginning of the month.

This latest story gives the developer and architects’ perspective, with regards to 835 E. Canon Perdido Street. It is the site of a former dry cleaner and McConnell’s Dairy Facility and is one of dozens of locations slated for development under the AUD Incentive Program. It was also a focus of our May 1 story.

It is important to point out that AUD is not affordable housing. These units target middle income and upper middle income residents, people who are overqualified for subsidized housing — and are referred to as the “workforce” — who cannot afford market-rate housing.

The City categorizes this specific segment of the community as a single person earning between $64,765 dollars and $107,940 dollars. For two people, the salary range is $74,017 dollars and $123,360 dollars. For a family of four, the range is $92,521 to $154,200.

NewsChannel 3 was invited into the conference room at RRM Design Group to talk about their work on the E. Canon Perdido project.

“You don’t start to see the second and third story until here, and here, and here,” said Lisa Plowman, the firm’s Manager of Planning, as she poured over architectural renderings of the site.

“We went back to the drawing board, said Andy Fuller, President of Fuller Apartment Homes and Partner of Presidio Capital, who is developing the property. “It is a process of great compromise.”

The developer and architects reached out to NewsChannel 3 over concerns about how AUD projects, like Fuller’s, are being described. For example, the City described these projects, in essence, as fast-tracked. Fuller said his team hasn’t taken any short-cuts and has gone to great lengths to get their 3-story development right.

“The project has gone from over 40,000 feet to close to 30,000 feet and from over 800 square feet per unit to barely 600 square feet per unit,” Fuller said. “You know, 45 feet to 36 feet and stacked walls to walls that are setback, very gently. I think we’ve made a lot of compromise in order to really win the good faith of the neighbors.”

“With this project, we looked at every single standard and decided to be better than that standard,” Plowman said.

Not only did Fuller and the architects shrink the overall size of the project, the proposed red brick which the neighbors disliked, will be covered with white stucco.

“The look now is really consistent with the look and feel of Santa Barbara,” Fuller said.

The trio was also concerned that some local residents are villifying developers over the AUD Incentive Program.

“Which is really unfortunate because hardly anybody lives in a building or a home that wasn’t built by a developer,” said Detlev “Detty” Peikert, Principal of RRM Design Group.

The goal of the AUD is to build 250 units over the course of an eight year period. To date, the City said there are more than 800 units in the pipeline. Both Peikert and Plowman call 835 E. Canon Perdido Street an “ideal location” because it is along a transportation corridor and near commercial services.

“We have not had any new rental housing built up until recently for the last 40 years,” Peikert stated.

Peikert sees older, “aging housing stock” throughout the city — some of it blighted — giving rise to what he calls a “renaissance of critically needed housing development.”

No matter what it’s called, it is essentially a mandate from the state, requiring cities to find ways to create more housing opportunities. Many believe the eight year long AUD Program is the solution to keeping Santa Barbara’s workforce from leaving, simply because they can’t afford to live here.

“The people that were the next, what you’d say, generation of workers in our community, were starting to leave town,” Plowman said. “These are people in their 30s, early 40s. These are the people that would be back-filling the jobs of the Baby boomers and that sector of the population is leaving town so they can afford to live someplace else.”

There are other dozens of AUD projects in the pipeline: 15 S. Hope Avenue is slated for 4-stories with 46 units; 116 E. Cota Street is proposed for a 3-story, 29 unit complex; the empty lot behind the Arlington Theatre at 1330 Chapala Street will eventually be known as Arlington Village with 3-stories, Spanish-Style buildings housing 33 units.

“I think it’s totally unfair,” said Christine Neuhauser. “I think it’s wrong and I think it changes the whole landscape of the city.”

NewsChannel 3 talked to Neuhauser, a Santa Barbara resident, and Erik Davis, a longtime resident and Vice President of the Pearl Chase Society, for a story that aired May 1. Both are speaking out against these types of projects. Among other things, they’re concerned about cutting views.

“Well, it does change the landscape,” Plowman said. “In my estimation, it’s ok to give up some views if we can actually house the people who are working here and serving us in our community.”

“This right here (835 E. Canon Perdido Street) is proposed to be a 50 unit, 3-story without any setback, right here in historic corridor,” Davis said.

“This project is not within an historic district,” Plowman said. “It’s outside the El Pueblo Viejo but it’s a good question.”

The architects pointed out that the setbacks are actually larger than required 5 feet and the building is only 3 stories but is zoned to be as high as 4-stories.

“Where a neighbor would be concerned about a view infringed upon, we removed the unit from that location,” Fuller said.

Housing always comes down to money. So, for this and other AUD projects, the big question is: will workforce renters be able to afford them?

“One thing is for certain: the market will tell you what the market will pay,” Fuller said. “And if you are out of line with the market, you will quickly realize and discover that you are out of line. And you will fall back in line or you will lose.”

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