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Green building in Santa Barbara? It’s not all that easy

AllenmodelWhat does it take to build a very green infill condominium project in conservative, tourist-driven, image-conscious Santa Barbara, where detractors argue that solar panels on red-tile roofs create visual blight?

“It takes explaining and patience,” says Dennis Thompson, AIA, the architect charged with shepherding a four-unit project through the seaside hamlet’s notoriously picky boards, commissions, committees and bureaucracy. “Anytime you do something innovative, you’ve got to be prepared for that.”

And the project certainly is ground-breaking, involving structural insulated panels rather than conventional framing, grid-connected solar panels to produce 100% of the electrical needs, and cutting-edge gypsum wallboard infused with microscopic beads of encapsulated wax that melt or harden with the weather to create a thermal barrier.

Most controversial is a parking system that uses hydraulic lifts to stack autos in space-saving garages. Indeed, it is the parking spaces created by the system that allow for four units on the lot, rather than three.

And that extra unit is pretty significant considering that it will have a market value of about $1.5 million. With the lifts costing $6,000 each, even with a lot of explaining to the city planning department, that’s not a bad investment, Thompson told me.

(Click below for the site plan showing how they got more open space and less driveway space.)

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