The Elings Park Foundation development plans had few friends at last week’s draft environmental impact report hearing.
It was standing room only at the Santa Barbara City Council chambers Thursday night as the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission listened to the foundation’s presentation and hours of public comment.
Although the discussion focused on the EIR, many in attendance made their opposition to the overall project clearly known.
The crowd was mostly made up of Elings Park neighbors, who took issue mostly with the EIR’s noise and sound impact analysis. Neighbors complained of noise and light pollution under current conditions, and were concerned that the EIR inaccurately estimated the impacts of the development plans for the property at 1298 Las Positas Road.
Members of Save Elings Park South, a neighborhood organization, came out in force against the plans and stressed that the project was not compatible with the surrounding community.
Some of the proposed facilities include a lighted BMX track, lighted fields, office and community center buildings, and additional parking and picnic areas.
The unavoidable traffic impacts and possible parking impacts greatly concerned residents, as well. Having large events at the park and greater attendance in general could impede evacuation from the area in a wildfire or other emergency, neighbors said. The EIR determined that many intersections along Las Positas and nearby freeway ramps will be affected by the plans.
Marc Chytilo and Ana Citrin, attorneys representing Save Elings Park South, said traffic and noise impacts were not adequately analyzed and land-use impacts were not even included. The commissions can’t accurately comment on the project until that information is added, Chytilo said.
John Jostes, a planning commissioner who recused himself from the proceedings and spoke against the project, said the EIR is missing vital information for commissioners to do their job.
Opponents also were concerned about the impacts on the park’s wildlife and general aesthetics, given the additional structures and facilities planned.
The BMX track — which will include lights and a PA system — will take up 55,000 square feet of land, about 1 percent of the park’s 230 acres. It has attracted the most opposition from neighbors, who worry that its new location will bring more noise and light pollution and take away from the south park’s open space.
A few people spoke on behalf of the proposed track, which would only use lighting from 6 to 8 p.m. on nights when it’s needed and PA systems only during official races.
Staff worried that some neighbors mistook BMX to mean motorcycles, and said the track wouldn’t have significant noise impacts.
“You’re looking at the engine right here,” said Henry Saria, who helps maintain the track.
Members of the Santa Barbara Soccer Club and others spoke on behalf of additional soccer fields, as there are not enough existing fields in the area. Elings Park’s portable lights were vandalized Thursday night, forcing the club to cancel practice.
Still others spoke on behalf of the overall plans, saying it was important to have more active recreation in the area.
“It’s happy noise,” one man said in defense of the park. It’s not construction noises, but weddings, people cheering or playing sports, he said.
At the end of the almost four-hour meeting, commissioners agreed that the EIR doesn’t fully address all of the issues and more alternatives must be included.
Further examination of the impacts of noise, lighting, traffic, land-use changes and overall neighborhood compatibility are essential for the project to be judged properly, said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Beebe Longstreet.
“When the fog is over there it’s like living inside a light bulb,” Planning Commissioner Addison Thompson said of the lighting analysis.
Thompson also questioned the mitigation plans for noise control. Without clear rules and enforcement, “to say noise is monitored is toothless,” he noted.
The plans include zoning changes and general plan amendments for the park’s northern and southern sections. For the south park to pursue any development, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors must create an amendment to a 1999 covenant restricting use in the area, site of a former county landfill.
“Until the covenant thing is cleared up, I can’t look at any development in south park,” Longstreet said.
Planning Commissioner Stella Larson urged staff to look into the implications of zoning and land-use changes, and including other pertinent public comment concerns to revise the EIR.
Public comment for the project has been extended until Dec. 3. Click here for the full draft of the EIR.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at email@example.com.