Appellate judges agreed that Santa Barbara County conducted a suitable environmental analysis of a proposed neighborhood shopping center at the eastern entrance to Orcutt.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling, by Associate Justice Kenneth Yegan with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert and Associate Justice Steven Perren, was released Tuesday, nearly two weeks after attorneys presented oral arguments.
The case centered on the proposed Orcutt Gateway Retail Commercial Center, south of East Clark Avenue and west of Highway 101, an area dubbed Key Site 2 in the Orcutt Community Plan. That document is a blueprint from future development.
An applicant planned to build 42,921 square feet of retail commercial space, including a 28,020-square-foot grocery store; a 2,700-square-foot fast food restaurant; a 6,816-square-foot retail commercial building; and a new gas station with 12 fueling stations, a 4,135-square-foot convenience store and a 1,250-square-foot car wash.
Citing a 1997 environmental impact report conducted as a part of the Orcutt Community Plan process, Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department officials said the Orcutt Gateway project did not need a full-blown EIR but included an addendum.
The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors approved the project in 2019.
Weeks later, Residents for Orcutt Sensible Growth and Gina Lord-Garland asked a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge to rule differently, and then appealed Judge James Rigali’s decision that supported the county’s actions.
“They contend that the county erred in approving the commercial center through an addendum instead of requiring a subsequent EIR,” the appellate panel said. “In addition, they argue that substantial evidence does not support the addendum’s conclusions, that the trial court erroneously augmented the administrative record, and that ‘the administrative hearing was a sham.’”
The three-judge panel affirmed Rigali’s ruling that the county had adequately studied potential environmental impacts.
Project opponents argued that the fact that the county adopted the OCP’s environmental report in 1997 and claimed it would guide development over 15 years made it “obsolete,” but the trial court and appellate judges disagreed.
“Appellants cite no authority to the effect that an EIR becomes stale after the passage of a specified number of years,” the appellate ruling said.
The Orcutt Gateway project actually would be smaller than the neighborhood shopping center studied in the 1997 EIR, which analyzed a development of 283,000 square feet and 1,000 parking spaces.
Project opponents contended that they and the public had no access to the analyses, but the trial court and appellate judges contend that opponents never asked for them.
“Having not taken advantage of such opportunity, they cannot now be heard to complain that they did not know of their existence. We reject as unfounded appellants’ accusation that respondents ‘conceal[ed] from the public the analyses,” the opinion said.
The Minson Co. originally sought permission to build the project, but court documents identified MOJO KS2 LLC as the new developer.
The Second Appellate District ruling can be read by clicking here.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.