Developers who may want to build in Buellton could face a long wait, following the city council’s decision to place a hold on any mixed-use projects until further notice. Currently, there are no projects in the pipeline.

At its March 12 meeting, the council unanimously voted to suspend the city’s relatively new mixed-use ordinance passed in December. The council also limited the authority of the planning director, zoning administrator and planning commission, which, before the decision, could have given small development projects the green light without the council’s final approval.

The ordinance governs how mixed-use projects are developed and built in the city.  

About 25 residents attended the meeting, many of whom expressed concerns about the current ordinance, which allows buildings to be as high as 45 feet and with as many as 15 units per acre, among other things. 

Councilmember Dave King voiced concerns that the mixed use ordinance would allow a commercial or manufactured project to be included with multi-family residential areas at a density of up to 16 units per acre.

“Theoretically, you could have five units on the bottom, five up above that and five up above that?” said King. Bierdzinski answered that he was correct, but that it would be “subject to approval by the planning commission with a development plan.”

Changes to the mixed-use ordinance being considered include allowing a maximum of 10 units per acre, rather than 15, to be built, and placing a building cap of 100 projects citywide.

The hold on the ordinance is effective for at least 45 days, but could be extended up to a year, if the council does not finish making changes. John Petersen of Santa Ynez, who described himself as a potential developer, said that the mixed use ordinance was beneficial, and that he would like to see the council adopt the shorter 45-day version, instead of extending it out a year, “to give us some sense that we can have our plan and projects in line and in the hopper,” he said. “Potentially, we all hope we will be in recovery at that point in time and will have a little bit of mixed use at a lower density.”

The decision to suspend the ordinance created slight changes to the city’s Housing Element, the document that contains the city’s goals, policies and land-use programs required by all cities in California as part of their general plans.

The March 12 meeting also included the third and final session of the Housing Element Update workshop, which allowed the public to weigh in on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation.

The allocation, an affordable housing mandate by the state, is part of the California Housing Element Law, which is updated every five years. It requires the county to zone a predetermined amount of available land for affordable housing. It is designed to supply mixed housing, encourage efficient development and improve the job-housing demand.

Bierdzinski explained that the mixed use is not a key for the state looking at affordable housing adequate sites. But Councilwoman Victoria Pointer said she did not want the state to receive a report with certain figures in it that “did not necessarily reflect what we want the fabric of this community to look like.”

As part of an ongoing issue, many members of the public questioned why the city documented that it had the ability to absorb more than 1,200 affordable housing units, when the state only required it show how it would accommodate 785 units to comply with the state mandate.

As a result, the council directed the city reveal only how the city would accommodate the required number of units.

City Planning Director Marc Bierdzinski explained that full public hearings will be held after the state’s comments are received.

“Right now we are just trying to get it to the state to get their comments,” he said. “They are going to have comments for us to look at, too.” The city’s RHNA allocation numbers must be certified by the state by Aug. 31. If delayed, it could jeopardize funding for housing projects. The next city council meeting is March 26 at 140 W. Hwy. 246, Buellton.

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