Two university housing projects may bring almost 400 faculty and family student homes to UCSB following approval by the California Coastal Commission.

The University of California Board of Regents gave its approval Tuesday morning to the North Campus Faculty Housing and Sierra Madre Housing projects. The projects make up UCSB’s plan to build 236 units of faculty housing and 151 units of family student housing on university property in Goleta just north of the Ocean Meadows Golf Course.

In exchange for development rights, UCSB would relinquish the 130 acres of university-owned land south of the golf course to become part of the 650 acres of open space stretching from Sandpiper Golf Course to Isla Vista.

Marc Fisher, associate vice chancellor for campus design and facilities, said the university desperately needs to expand its faculty housing options if it hopes to attract new professors – and keep them – in the face of the high cost of living in Santa Barbara.

“Housing is a critical element in recruiting and retaining new faculty members,” Fisher said. “This is a huge opportunity to build faculty housing, and it would really enhance the campus’s appeal. Right now, this is a very tight [housing] market to bring young faculty members into.”

Fisher said the university will likely submit the project to the Coastal Commission by the end of September. He said the commission may make its decision within six months, and he said he feels confident the ruling will be favorable.

“The campus has a pretty good shot at taking this before the Coastal Commission and getting it approved,” Fisher said.

Moreover, Fisher said once the university selects a developer next spring, it will begin deciding on rent prices for the new homes. He said he expects the rent charged to be between 40 to 60 percent less than the average for Santa Barbara.

“It’s still expensive, but very affordable for the area,” Fisher said.

Tye Simpson, director of campus planning and design, said the Coastal Commission approved a plan the university submitted in 1994 calling for development on the land both north and south of the golf course.

“The development area is substantially smaller than the area already approved for development in Goleta in 1994,” Simpson said.

With the Coastal Commission’s support of the earlier plan in mind, Simpson said he thinks it will come to a similar conclusion on the current, more compromising plan.

“If planning means anything to the commission, I anticipate their approval – albeit reluctantly,” Simpson said.

If approved by the Coastal Commission, the project will result in a loss of open space and wetlands in the area north of the Ocean Meadows Golf Course.

Simpson said due to the housing plan’s size and location — a region with high ecological significance – the projects have been subjected to intense scrutiny since their inception.

“This project has been subject to the most extensive environmental review of any university housing project in over a decade,” Simpson said.

Fisher said the presence of wetlands in the proposed development area has been a major point of contention regarding the housing project. However, he said despite the concerns of many environmentalists, those wetlands did not originally exist until other development caused water to pool in the area.

“These aren’t pristine California wetlands,” Fisher said. “They were man-made – you could even say they were “accidental.”