Nearly two years after the would-be developers of Bishop Ranch formerly withdrew their application, citing the city of Goleta’s negative report on the project, the ranch is back on the table.
“The first step is really to evaluate the Bishop Ranch,” said Urban McLellan, representative for Bishop Ranch 2000 LLC. An application for the initiation of General Plan amendments and a development agreement was submitted last week to Goleta’s planning desk.
While there is no specific project proposed yet, the plans for Bishop Ranch — that 240-acre swath of land in western Goleta north of Highway 101 at the Glen Annie/Storke roads exit — will not likely be so different from the last set of plans that were submitted to the city almost two years ago. The preliminary charts suggest about 1,100 housing units of different types and densities, and open space around the more sensitive riparian areas. A neighborhood commercial area would take up the southwest corner of the property along Glen Annie Road. An internal road would loop within the property. There would be two points of access from Cathedral Oaks Road to the north, and one from Glen Annie to the west.
As perhaps the largest piece of undeveloped land within the urban boundary line on the South Coast, developing Bishop Ranch is an ambitious undertaking on the part of the developer, a big decision on the part of the city, and a controversial topic within the community. Originally part of a much larger agricultural property in the Goleta Valley, the 240 acres owned by University Exchange Corp. that is being eyed for development historically has been zoned for residential use by Santa Barbara County before being rezoned back to agriculture in 1980.
It has been seen by Goleta as an important agricultural resource, although the developers contend the soils have been found to be deficient after several attempts at farming over the years. Related to the ranch’s agricultural use is the loss of water rights, which development opponents contend were sold off to make farming infeasible. McLellan countered that the water rights on the property went to irrigating the agricultural operations to the north, and some went to Camino Real Marketplace across the freeway as well.
Developing the property will require a rezoning to a mixed-use designation from agricultural land use. The Goleta General Plan’s Conservation Element prohibits conversion of agriculturally designated land so an amendment would have to be made to accommodate housing on the property — a precedent-setting move in the eyes of other Goleta agricultural land owners who may want to convert their own properties.
“We think it solves an obvious housing need,” McLellan told Noozhawk. The provision of various kinds of housing is a benefit the city could reap from development of Bishop Ranch, he said, adding that creating housing on the property could ease the congestion of housing slated along the Hollister Avenue corridor as well as satisfy state-mandated affordable housing quotas.
Furthermore, according to Bishop Ranch documents submitted to the city Thursday, a development agreement could further ensure that up to 80 acres of the property could be designated community park land with the potential for 10 acres for the city’s use.
McLellan said 240 acres is a great opportunity to perform good urban planning, with the flexibility that a large piece of land allows. But the question of developing any of it at all is likely going to be on the minds of many community members who have in the past urged the city not to allow for development of Bishop Ranch, citing environmental, traffic and visual concerns.
Goleta officials have not yet had the chance to digest the contents of Bishop Ranch’s substantial application. About two years ago the city accepted the withdrawal of Bishop Ranch’s request for General Plan amendment initiation, calling it “unnecessary” and “not in the public interest.” It is not clear yet whether the city would see it differently this time, or in five years, which is the shortest length of time it would take to get the first building permits, should development be approved.
“We’ll give it our due diligence,” City Manager Dan Singer told Noozhawk. A planner will be assigned to the application and processing will take two to three months. The application will be brought to the city council for a public hearing and a decision, he said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.