Sunday, October 4 , 2015, 2:35 am | Overcast 66º

Groups File Appeals, Lawsuit Over Proposed Mansions on Gaviota Coast

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Several environmental and conservation groups have announced they are asking the California Coastal Commission to overturn a decision by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to approve two large homes to be built on undeveloped land on the eastern edge of the Gaviota Coast.

Two of the groups also filed a lawsuit last week challenging the project's environmental documents.

The Paradiso del Mare project would result in two residences on 142 acres — a 6,000-square-foot home on the coastal portion of the property and a 7,000-square-foot project on the inland portion.

The property sits west of the Bacara Resort & Spa, and the project was approved by the county Planning Commission but appealed to the supervisors by environmentalists.

The project was the subject of a public hearing on Feb. 4, when several speakers raised concerns including damaged wildlife habitats, drought, and limited public access to the beach. Most of them opposed the two mansions proposed for a coastal parcel west of Goleta.

The Board of Supervisors ultimately voted unanimously to allow the project, however, saying that the public benefit would outweigh the drawbacks.

Appellants had taken issue with the fact that the project site was a nesting area for white-tailed kites, borders an active seal rookery and has been used as a beach access point.

The environmental documents for the project hadn't adequately reviewed those issues, the groups asserted.

Several groups — the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the Santa Barbara Audubon Society — and marine mammal expert Peter Howorth appealed the board’s approvals to the Coastal Commission on Feb. 28, they announced this week.

Last Friday, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Surfrider also filed a lawsuit in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, challenging certification of the environmental impact report for the project.

Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, said the dual challenges were filed because the project doesn't comply with the county’s Local Coastal Program and the Coastal Act, and because the EIR is "defective."

Surfrider attorney Ellison Folk said that project is laid out in such a way that it causes impacts to sensitive biological resources, and permanently closes a well-established trail to the beach.

The supervisors said the developer must include public-access easements for lateral and vertical access across the property, a parking lot for public use, 117 acres of open space, on-site habitat restoration and construction of a portion of the California Coastal Trail.

The groups remained unconvinced, however, that the developer of the project would provide a viable plan for future beach access or funding for a beach-access route to replace the trail that would be eliminated by the project.

The Coastal Commission could begin its consideration of the project appeals as early as April 9 at a hearing that is scheduled in Santa Barbara, and the Superior Court process is expected to take a year or more before the matter comes up for hearing, the groups said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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