Montecito Planning Commission’s First Meeting of 2022
At last week’s Montecito Planning Commission hearing, commissioners voted unanimously to appoint commissioner Ron Pulice as the chair of the Commission. While there was some discussion about Pulice’s current non-resident status – he currently resides elsewhere in the county – it was decided that Pulice would be able to finish his term. Commissioners Susan Keller and Marshall Miller were appointed First Vice Chair and Second Vice Chair, respectively.
The Commission was briefed on SB 9, which allows the building of multi-family housing units in single-family residential zones as well as lot splitting via ministerial approvals only. SB 9 does not require that improvements be made to local infrastructure to accommodate more residents, including water and sewer infrastructure, law enforcement and school capacity, road infrastructure, and more. These projects are also exempt from CEQA, which means no environmental review is required. As written, the State law allows for lot splitting of qualifying properties in single-family zones, with a minimum of 1,200 sq. ft. and no less than 40% of the original lot size. Two residential units (minimum 800 sq. ft. each) could then be built on each lot; the units could be a duplex or two separate homes, and require only a four-foot setback.
Under SB 9, local jurisdictions may only impose objective zoning standards, objective subdivision standards, and objective design standards on an eligible project, and only to the extent that the standards do not physically preclude the construction of two units of at least 800 square feet. Santa Barbara City and Goleta have both implemented objective standards via emergency ordinances; these standards include prohibiting SB 9 building in very high fire zones, mandating that at least one of the units be used for “affordable” housing (a yearly income of $70K or less), and requiring that there be one off-street parking space available per unit. Goleta also added a provision that only an individual homeowner could apply for an SB 9 permit, and not a corporation, as a way to weed out developers, and has set very high impact fees.
Members of the Commission and members of the public pushed for MPC to take action on setting objective standards to limit projects under SB 9. Director of Planning & Development Lisa Plowman explained that County staff did not have time to draft an emergency ordinance, and that the best time for the Commission to take action would be in February, when staff will present a three-year work program, which includes housing topics, for MPC review. She encouraged the Commission to prepare comments at that time; it will then be up to the Board of Supervisors on how to allocate resources in order to craft an ordinance that would impose objective standards. As of January 19, only one application for development had been received by the County under SB 9, which was a lot split in Eastern Goleta Valley.
Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor told the Commission he has serious concerns about SB 9, or any law or measure that increases housing density in high fire areas. Specifically, there are concerns about resident egress and fire vehicle ingress in an emergency on narrow, rural streets. The MFPD is currently undertaking an $80,000 study to determine if the existing number of residents can evacuate effectively in a fast moving, wind-driven fire. The results of that study are expected to be presented to the MFPD board in April.
The next hearing of the Montecito Planning Commission is scheduled for Wednesday, February 16.
Montecito Sound Walls
Next week a meeting will be held via Zoom to update the community on the next planning steps for the Montecito segment of the widening of Highway 101. Project reps have begun initial planning review with the County of Santa Barbara as part of the Coastal Development permitting process, and preliminary feedback from the County includes a requirement from Flood Control to analyze if the proposed sound walls on the project would create a rise in flood waters. The flood risk will be analyzed using Recovery Mapping that was adopted by the County in response to the 1/9 Debris Flow.
According to project rep Kirsten Ayars, sound walls are considered through a seven-step process; the first six steps follow federal guidelines for projects that use federal funds. These steps include identifying sensitive receptors, measuring existing and predicting future noise levels, identifying affected residences, reviewing potential noise abatements, determining financial reasonableness, and voting by affected property owners. Property owners are considered affected by a proposed noise abatement measure if their properties (adjacent to the abatement) are predicted to be impacted or benefited by receivers, or if the physical environment of their properties will be altered directly by the noise abatement measure. Alteration of the physical environment includes (but is not necessarily limited to) blocking access, interrupting scenic views, causing loss of visibility from the highway, creating shadows, and interrupting natural airflow. For noise barriers, the combined effects of acoustical and physical alterations of the environment are generally limited to 150 meters (500 feet) or less from the edge of traveled way of a highway. Property owner voting concluded in June 2021.
The seventh – and last – step in the process is the Coastal Development Permit process. This process reviews project features, impacts, and compliance with coastal policies. Sound walls need to be consistent with local policy requirements, including updates since the Debris Flow, to be approved as part of the project. The opportunity for public participation in the Coastal Development Permit process is expected in spring and summer 2022 at Montecito Board of Architectural Review and County Planning Commission hearings.
The Montecito portion of the project will eventually widen the freeway to three lanes in each direction between Sycamore Creek in the City of Santa Barbara up to Romero Creek in Montecito (west of Sheffield Drive). Also included are the reconstruction of the freeway bridges over Cabrillo Boulevard and a new southbound on-ramp (replacing the left-hand ramp removed years ago). Bridges will be replaced at Montecito, San Ysidro, Oak, and Romero creeks. Four new sound walls are included, and this design phase is also proposing to integrate some operational and safety improvements on the highway and ramps. Associated projects in Carpinteria and Summerland are currently underway, with the segment at Padaro Lane beginning construction last summer. One of the most discussed portions of the project includes the reconstruction of the Hot Springs Rd./Cabrillo Blvd. interchange, which includes a roundabout and the replacement of the left-side ramps with right-side ramps. The interchange will also bring back the southbound onramp at Cabrillo Blvd, which many residents and Coast Village Road business owners are eager to see.
Due to the addition of another lane of the freeway, the median area through Montecito will get smaller, which will impact the landscaping and mature trees in the median. The sound walls will provide additional landscaping opportunities on the exterior areas of the freeway. The freeway bridges will feature a muted façade, arches, and timber railing on the barriers, to add to the design aesthetics; the design also includes natural materials such as cobblestones, Santa Barbara sandstone, and native plantings.
A map of proposed sound walls in Montecito is available at www.sbroads.com/lane_train_solutions/phase4.aspx. A virtual community meeting to review and discuss how the Recovery Mapping relates to sound walls, options explored, impacts to proposed sound walls, and next steps is on Thursday, February 3, at 5 pm. The Zoom link is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88556445470, Meeting ID: 885 5644 5470.
Visit www.sbroads.com for more information on the project.