top of page

Zoning / Land Use


The property is currently zoned as RS-15, which stands for “Residential Single-Family - 15,000sf minimum lot size”.  In theory this would allow a subdivision of up to 14 parcels from the 4.93-acre property size (approximately 214,750 square feet).  However in reality, constraints of topography, historical preservation, archaeology, traffic access and other factors are likely to disallow subdivision.  Since the property was originally 2 adjacent parcels side-by-side of roughly the same size, and each with one main house, it may be conceivable this original 2-parcel configuration could be restored.  This possible parcel split scenario would not be a ministerial process, but instead a long-range planning process without a certain outcome and with uncertainty of conditions required if a positive outcome, and would be outside the scope of any escrow time period.


The zoning code for the City of Santa Barbara for this property’s RS-15 designation appears in Section 30.20 of the Municipal Code, which can be searched on-line or can be provided by the Realtor upon request.  The code includes charts showing development standards and land-use regulations.  Beginning in 1952 when ownership of the property transferred and its use became the St. Mary’s Retreat House, the property has been operated continuously since then in this manner.  In 2013 the current ownership took over title from the St. Mary’s Retreat House, but the retreat house use continued in the same manner, now as the Mount Calvary Monastery.  


The retreat house use of the last 68 years includes stays of less than 30 days at a time, with unrelated parties renting different rooms at the same time, and the payment by guests has been in the form of a donation to a religious non-profit organization.  Meals are served in a common dining hall and are included in the fees. Religious services in the permitted chapel are attended both by guests staying at the property, as well as by invited members of the public not staying overnight at the property.  Many of these historical uses would not be conforming or not allowed even with conditions per current zoning codes; these uses may or may not have been conforming at the time they began in the early 1950’s. 


There was no process for a conditional use permit (CUP) in the City of Santa Barbara in 1952, but recent exploration of potential alterations to the property that would require permits at the planning department level (as opposed to repairs and upgrades only required at the building department level), have indicated that a CUP would be required to be obtained to proceed with any planning level improvements.  It is likely that if a new owner desired to make significant upgrades to the buildings - even if staying within the 3-dimensional existing footprint – the work would eventually spill into some planning level aspect that might trigger a CUP requirement.  Even if no new work is undertaken on the property, it is possible other circumstances could eventually require an official CUP to be acquired for the continued “retreat house” use.


However there is often deference given to historical property uses, especially when the use began prior to the City of Santa Barbara CUP regulations.  Indications from private land-use planners familiar with this property are that a CUP is likely to be issued, but with conditions, as is implied in the name of this permit type.  These conditions may involve significant costs for a new owner of the property, including possible structural upgrades, utility upgrades, ADA upgrades, and parking and traffic enhancements.  The extent of these upgrade requirements for a new owner could vary greatly depending on their intended use of the property.  However such required improvements are likely from a real estate perspective to add value to the property, both from a property condition standpoint, as well as contributing added value due to officially approved land uses.


A prospective buyer is advised to consult through a private land-use planner who is an expert on zoning and land-use issues of this type, and who is best equipped to obtain a comfort level from the City of Santa Barbara for a buyer - either before making an offer and/or during the contingency period of an escrow.  The escrow period will not be extended by the seller to allow for any buyer permits to be put in place, but a buyer is expected to be able to achieve a level of confidence during the contingency period to move forward with their purchase.

bottom of page