In a move that presents far-reaching complications to Goleta’s General Plan amendment process, the Goleta City Council voted 3-2 (Council members Jonny Wallis and Roger Aceves dissenting) to initiate a request for several General Plan amendments, including a land use redesignation from agricultural to residential, put forward by the Shelby Land Trust.
“I can’t look at all of you in the eyes and say that (the initiation) is a substantial delay,” Steve Chase, Goleta planning and environmental services director, told the council Tuesday evening. “But I can look at you in the eye and say it is a substantial complication.”
At the heart of the discussion is a plot of land in the northwest corner of Goleta that the Shelby family has been trying to get developed for years. Originally a 30-plus-acre plot when it was first purchased by its owners in 1978, 7400 Cathedral Oaks Road has been subject to subdivision and urban encroachment, shrinking its size to 13.92 acres. The property shares a border with Glen Annie Golf Club to its north and east. Across the street to the west is an apartment complex that was erected in the 1960s and ‘70s, and south of the property across Cathedral Oaks Road is the high-end housing development, the Crown Collection.
Included in the preliminary plans the owners have for their land is a 75-unit housing project. About half of the homes are planned to be market-rate and half would be affordable.
The project got support from local business leaders and housing advocates, particularly for its willingness to apply an emerging local preference policy envisioned by the local business sector that would prioritize local workers who are in the market for a home in the area.
“This is a great place for a small new neighborhood and we are very impressed with the mix of single-family and multi-family designs and the affordable and workforce sales prices,” said Kristen Amyx, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The project would add to the diversity of housing approved in the area, she said, such as Michael Towbes’ Sumida Gardens rental housing project and Andrew Bermant’s Village at Los Carneros, a condominium project that received its final approvals for its General Plan amendment requests earlier that evening.
Sale prices could not be determined at this time, Shelby representative Jim Youngson told Noozhawk, as they would depend on the future housing market.
City planning staff, however, said the project was not appropriate at this time, as there was no need to rezone additional parcels of land for residential uses. The city’s planning department is currently either involved with or looking into plans for a dozen other proposed housing projects in the city, none of which require a conversion of land use.
Also, they said, the project lacked good design, as it did not take into account the Glen Annie Golf Club, which is also currently undeveloped, but may be in the future.
“Neither of these properties should be designed in isolation,” said Planning Manager Patricia Miller.
Furthermore, said the planners, the project leans away from Goleta General Plan priorities to provide a mix of housing along Hollister Avenue, the city’s main artery as well as discourage sprawl by using infill housing opportunities.
Tuesday evening’s decision to initiate the amendments was a step forward for the property owner, who had for years been trying to get the property’s zoning designation changed to residential from agricultural. When the approximately 30-acre original property was purchased in 1978 by the Shelby family, it was zoned for residential purposes. But when the county updated its Goleta Community Plan in 1993, the land was redesignated as agricultural, a label the city kept when it incorporated.
Despite the Shelby Trust’s attempts to prove the land unviable for agriculture, the city kept the zoning it inherited from the county when it wrote and adopted its current general plan. As a result, the trust sued the city in 2006, claiming it never gave fair process over the viability of agriculture on the property. Soils were deficient, said Shelby representative Mark Lloyd, who pressed the agricultural viability issue Tuesday evening, as well as what he called the General Plan’s outright prohibition on ag land conversions. The Goleta Water District revoked the property’s use of its agricultural water meters because no farming has been done there for years.
For city planners the decision to initiate amendments is a hitch in their progress as they work toward amending the General Plan. A land-use conversion would change the plan’s land use map. And while the city’s efforts with the city-initiated amendments have avoided proposing new growth, this conversion, if approved, would change that direction.
“It is a planned conversion, it does suggest new growth, and it’s the first one to be entertained,” Chase said.
Included with the Shelby Trust’s requests for a rezone are suggested amendments to about a dozen other General Plan policies, affecting open space, conservation and visual and historic resources. Some of these suggested amendments would conflict with other amendments already in progress, and according to city staff, the city-wide amendments would loosen the city’s current restriction on ag land conversion. Properties like the Bishop Ranch would be affected by the amendments.
For its part, the Shelby Trust is willing to work with city staff to iron out the wrinkles in the conflicting policy changes, said Lloyd.
“This project embodies everything (in the general plan) except for the Housing Element,” said Councilman Eric Onnen, referring to the controversial element of the Goleta General Plan that has more than once been sent back by the state Department of Housing and Community Development to the city for revision, because of what it saw as an infeasible housing plan.
“I’m compelled to say that somehow we find a way to move this project a step forward to get more information,” Onnen added.
Taking an opposing position, Councilwoman Jonny Wallis sided with staff recommendations to deny the initiation of amendments, saying the current plans for housing laid out in the General Plan satisfy the current regional housing needs quota.
“It’s my belief that residents of Goleta strongly support the retention of our ag land,” she said, pointing out that preservation of agricultural resources was a hot-button issue during Goleta’s drive for incorporation.