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Large-scale hotel and apartment development slated for Santa Barbara Eastside

Big changes are being proposed for the 400 block of Milpas Street and the 900 block of E. Gutierrez Street.

They entail a 4-story hotel and apartment development, consisting of 84 hotel rooms and 27 small-scale apartment units.

Some say this is just what the Eastside area needs while others argue that the scope and size are all wrong for this cottage community.

“It sets precedent for how the rest of the city is going to look,” said Natasha Todorovic, an area resident.

The project started years ago and falls under the City’s Average Density Unit (AUD) development incentive plan in an effort to bring more workforce housing to local communities. The plan is part of a statewide mandate.

The proposed site encompasses a small but deep parcel at 418 N. Milpas Street — although some City records reflect 416 N. Milpas Street — and connects to the 915 E. Gutierrez parcel down the block where eight craftsman-style cottages stand.

James Smith has called one of them “home” for 22 years.

“It’s the stupidest thing you’d ever think, building down here on the Eastside,” Smith said. “It’s too big. Makes no sense.”

If approved, Smith’s cottage and the seven others would be demolished, along with the small house currently on the Milpas Street parcel.

A group of women looking at architectural drawings posted in front of the cottages agreed with Smith.

“It looks like the full block but there’s a slice being taken out of it,” Todorovic said. “So, it’s not 7-11, it’s not the Rusty’s Pizza but it’s a giant L shape and it’s going right in the middle of our neighborhood.”

City officials were unavailable for comment because Friday, July 13 was a furlough day. A call to the Planning Department staff was not returned.

Architect Nikhil Kamat spoke to reporter Beth Farnsworth by phone and explained that this is a scaled back version of the original proposal, after considering residents’ concerns about setbacks, privacy and other issues. Kamat said terraces were added to the design in hopes of easing those worries.

“I just feel very strongly that a hotel has no business on Milpas Street in this area,” said Ann Hefferman, a local Eastside resident. “Our need is for real affordable workforce housing.”

“This is going to be the front of the hotel, Gutierrez,” said Maria Rey, a retired teacher and local resident. “And you can look at it, this is a small community. Look at this street, not enough for all this traffic.”

Rey is also deeply concerned about the number of students walking to nearby Franklin Elementary School, Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High School. Parking is another major issue in an area where spots are especially difficult to find.

“This is not a new area with new infrastructure of water, gas, any of the utilities so that’s going to be a second pressure,” said resident Bea Molina.

Kamat said if approved, he believes the development will be a good addition to the community because it will bring in new jobs, boost city coffers and improve safety in the area.

Opponents of the project packed an Architectural Board of Review (ABR) meeting on Monday.

Although board members said they are only there to look at design and how it fits into neighborhood they heard plenty of complaints about parking and displacing low income residents.

One residents said is screams lust for money over quality of life.

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