The California Coastal Commission on Friday unanimously approved a controversial student and faculty housing project at UC Santa Barbara.
The decision ends several years of contention between the university and dozens of residents who opposed the development. The university, 100 miles north of Los Angeles, has been scrambling to find affordable housing for its personnel in one of the most expensive real estate markets in California.
"The university needs the housing, there's no doubt about that, and that was a significant consideration," said Peter Douglas, executive officer for the commission. "At the same time, it balances environmental protection with the university's need for affordable housing. It's a good trade-off."
But many Goleta residents living in the area were upset with the outcome. They say the project would destroy a popular hiking and dog-walking commons. They oppose more high-density housing in their neighborhood and say the project would harm important wildlife habitat.
"I am stunned and very disappointed," said Tanya Sorich, who lives next to the property that will be developed for faculty housing. "It's going to impact traffic congestion in our neighborhood."
But Goleta City Manager Dan Singer said the city endorsed the development. He said the key was an agreement by the university to preserve 69 acres of high-quality wildlife habitat, including wetlands, meadows and bluffs. That parcel is a critical piece of a much bigger open-space plan encompassing 650 acres and 2.2 miles along the Central Coast, Singer said.
The commissioners approved two housing projects, one for faculty and the other for students, on a 174-acre parcel. The faculty housing would consist of 172 units, including single-family houses and condos on 26 acres.
Nearby, the Sierra Madre Family Student Housing Project would have 151 units on 18 acres.
Santa Barbara County housing prices are a major impediment to attracting and retaining top talent at the university, said Donna Carpenter, vice chancellor of administrative services.