The Goleta City Council on Tuesday evening formally accepted Bishop Ranch‘s withdrawal of its application for initiation of General Plan amendments, bringing to a halt the push for development on the 240-acre site — at least for the time being.
“We find that (the General Plan initiation) request is unnecessary with regards to build-out needs, results in a significant loss of agricultural land and undermines the protection of other agricultural lands, would not result in good planning, and is not in the public interest,” Goleta senior planner Patty Miller said.
According to city statistics, Bishop Ranch constitutes about a quarter of agricultural land on the Goleta Valley floor and 70 percent of the city’s agricultural land inventory. Currently the city is processing permits for 1,000 residential units and about a million square feet of industrial and commercial space.
Despite the council’s anticipated denial of the request to initiate amendments that would convert the tract’s ag designation to mixed-use, and the calling off of development supporters by would-be developer Michael Keston, Bishop Ranch was still very much a live topic Tuesday night. The council continued with its public hearing and several community members approached the podium to comment.
“If (these lands) are developed, all of us — Goletans of today and tomorrow — will bear the externalized cost of massive increase in traffic, pollution and crowding,” said local resident Fermina Murray.
Meanwhile, Jean Nooney, a participant in the community workshops held by Bishop Ranch late last year, continued to lend support to the proposed development of about 900 or more homes on the property.
“I think it definitely should be considered and my recommendation to the city council is to at least study this plan,” Nooney said.
Bishop Ranch in northwestern Goleta is one of the South Coast’s last remaining large open spaces, and what to do with it has been the subject of contention within the Goleta community for years. Housing proponents want the agriculturally zoned territory rezoned to allow for homes, while opponents point to the need for agricultural land in the near future, when increasing transportation costs will create the need for locally grown food.
Gary Stenshol, a farmer with Agricultural Land Services who manages the active agricultural operation Rancho Corona del Mar, also known as Upper Bishop Ranch — north of Cathedral Oaks Road — shed light on Bishop Ranch’s agricultural water situation, based on feasibility studies contracted by the property’s owners.
“The difficulty with the parcel to the south is that we have no more additional water to take there,” he said. It would take a roughly $52,000 investment in water per acre of citrus or avocado in the first year, and it would take more than 30 years to get a return on that initial investment, he said.
Other commenters remained unconvinced that agriculture was infeasible on the land, pointing out that the owners sold their water rights to Camino Real Marketplace.
“The fact that they can’t do agriculture because they have no water is because they sold their water,” said Anne Wiseheart.
No further meetings on Bishop Ranch have been scheduled by the city, but Bishop Ranch is expected to come up again in the future. According to Bishop Ranch representative Ryan Minniear, Keston is willing to wait until such a time that his project will get a friendlier reception from city officials.
Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at email@example.com.