Solvang community leaders have unanimously agreed to adopt an alternative land use element that will maintain the city’s unique small town atmosphere while allowing for increased housing density, housing in areas commercial, retail and office space, and an increase in the total usable floor area of ​​the buildings relative to the total lot area.

The 5-0 vote of Solvang Planning Commission was immediately followed by a 5-0 vote by the Solvang City Council during their joint session on March 7 to discuss the preferred land use element of the city’s first-ever comprehensive master plan update.

The city will review and adopt various other elements of the 2040 Master Plan over the coming months, including: traffic, housing, conservation, open spaces, noise, safety, environmental justice, air quality and elements of economic development.

Throughout the update process, which began in December 2020, the city and its consultants will seek public input and examine modern topics such as climate change, resilience, the environment and public health in the goal of achieving a coherent vision for the future.

Mintier Harnish consultant Brent Gibbons said the element is designed to look at big ideas, not details.

“There are market forces and global forces that affect the market. If some changes occur with changes in land use, what would these changes be and their implications, mainly related to population, employment, housing units? Gibbon said.

During the process, the city’s General Plan Advisory Committee, made up of 14 members, consultants and community members who participated in surveys and public meetings analyzed three options:

  • Alternative A — status quo, offering no change to densities or intensities of use;
  • Alternative B – allowing for medium density infill which “would take high density density up a notch and (tourism related commercial) and allow for more square footage on a parcel”; and
  • Alternative C — allowing high density filling.

Gibbons added that the current general plan does not allow residential use in the tourism-related commercial area, although the city’s zoning ordinance allows it. When complete, the general plan and zoning ordinance will align.

According to the results of a city-wide survey to which 189 participants responded, Alternative C was clearly prohibited, with less than 10% interest. Comments focused on the plan altering the uniqueness of the community, Gibbons said.

Participants were almost evenly split between the other two alternatives.

Proponents of Alternative A have focused on maintaining Solvang’s unique small-town charm. Proponents of Alternative B stressed the importance of having more affordable housing opportunities.

During its meeting, the GPAC deliberated for two hours before settling on an Alternative A recommendation with a few additions: increase the maximum allowable residential density to 20 units per acre and pro-rate on smaller lots; allow for mixed use which would provide residential units in the tourism-related commercial area, retail and general commercial land use areas and professional offices; increase the allowable floor area ratio to 0.65; and allow a maximum building height of 35 feet.

Additionally, the GPAC recommended pre-designating the Mission Oaks property as low- and medium-density residential as zoned to correct a 2008 mapping error that left it appearing as high-density residential.

During public comments, Solvang resident Denise Johns said she was disappointed the city did not consider high-density development for downtown housing. She said such a development would help address the lack of affordable housing for people working in the community, the additional traffic created by their travels and the contribution of these travels to climate change.

GPAC member Elizabeth Breen, who is also an association director at the Santa Ynez Valley Association of Realtors, pleaded with commissioners and board members to support GPAC’s recommendation to adopt Alternative A with the recommended additions. to solve a real housing problem.

“The local rental vacancy rate is zero. There are no vacant rentals in the entire valley, let alone Solvang,” she said.

She said there were only 15 homes on the market, only two of which are offered for less than $1 million.

“That’s been the case for several months now, so we’re really in a bad spot right now with housing,” Breen said.

A pedestrian walks past the Birkholm Bakery in downtown Solvang in 2020. Solvang City Council, in joint session with the Solvang Planning Commission, unanimously agreed to adopt another element of use of land to preserve the town’s small-town feel while allowing for expansion into more high-density buildings to address a real estate shortage.