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County Supervisors Vote to Move Ahead with Studies for Eastern Goleta Valley Community Plan

Board signs off on following through with an environmental review process for the draft blueprint, designed to provide guidelines for future development

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to move ahead on an environmental review for a draft community plan for the Eastern Goleta Valley.

That plan would amend a document last updated 19 years ago and provide guidelines for future development. The unincorporated area, which spans from Goleta’s eastern border to the northwestern border of Santa Barbara, includes about 36,000 residents, and dozens of meetings have taken place over the years to craft the community plan.

Scroll down to read a full copy of the draft plan.

“In the end, I believe the process has been fair,” said county Supervisor Janet Wolf, who was at the helm of most of Tuesday’s discussion on the dais.

Two agricultural properties in the area have been the center of controversy — one on South Patterson Avenue and one at San Marcos Growers, near Hollister Avenue and Turnpike Road, but have continued agricultural uses in the plan. Many people were still worried about the possibility of those parcels being converted for other uses besides farming.

Wolf’s district includes the Eastern Goleta Valley, where Wolf herself resides, and she took a step further Tuesday to tighten up the regulations on land conversion in the plan.

If an urban agricultural property is to be rezoned to another use, she said, county officials will have to find that the land is no longer appropriate for farming or they’ll have to find that there’s an overriding public need for the conversion.

The draft plan also raised concern among residents when it included eight sites in the area to be studied for additional development at higher densities of 20 units per acre.

Last summer, the county received a letter from the California Department of Housing and Community Development that its housing element would no longer comply with state law if it didn’t implement the new zoning by July.

The county Planning Commission recommended that the densities go forward last year, and staff have said that studying the higher densities in the environmental documents is not a commitment to rezone the properties.

Several dozen public speakers came to the meeting Tuesday, and though many signed off on the plan, others raised concerns.

Many had reservations about high-density housing along Hollister Avenue, as well as concerns about the state mandating how local communities can use their own land.

Speaker Kenan Ezal, who was part of the Goleta Valley Planning Advisory Committee, or GVPAC, that crafted the plan, told the supervisors he was concerned they were being “illegally strong armed” by the state.

“This isn’t just about the Eastern Goleta Valley. ... If you agree with the state interpretation, by all means roll over,” he said, adding that the county could dispute the state’s interpretation of the ordinance. “Please be firm, and just hold the line.”

Others urged the county supervisors to include development on the two agricultural properties in their review.

Debbie Cox Bultan of the Coastal Housing Coalition said an affordability gap remains dramatically higher on the South Coast than in other regions, despite of the recession.

“Affordability and density are linked,” she said, encouraging the supervisors to look at the two properties for housing.

Brett Hodges, one of the owners of San Marcos Growers, said that he and his family are pleased with the current use of the property, but the needs may change in the future. Because the location is near two elementary schools, a high school and stores as well as transit, housing “is perhaps the best long-term use of the property,” he said, calling for a “flexible” environmental document.

However, the supervisors didn’t vote to study the San Marcos Growers property and most of the South Patterson property for uses other than agriculture. They commended the community plan and the process, and Wolf praised the time spent by residents with GVPAC and by planning commissioners.

She reminded the public that the draft plan isn’t the last word, but that it will go through the environmental review process to ensure there’s enough water and environmental protections for each of these parcels.

“While there are going to be disagreements, I think in the end we are a stronger community because of this process,” she said.

The county Board of Supervisors wasn’t the only agency discussing land conversion Tuesday.

Several hours after the supervisors took their vote, a group from Goleta announced they will be working to get a measure put on November’s ballot that would require voters to approve land conversion from agriculture to other uses. 

The Goodland Coalition, a group of Goleta residents and local supporters, announced they’re launching a signature drive to place the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative on the ballot. The measure would only apply rezones of the six agricultural parcels of 10 or more acres remaining within city limits.

The affected parcels would be Bishop Ranch and the two agriculture-zoned properties immediately to its east and west, Fairview Gardens, a parcel in Ellwood Canyon and a parcel west of Glen Annie Golf Club, according to the group.

“Potential rezoning of agriculture for development would have vast implications for the very character of Goleta,” said Bob Wignot, spokesman for the Goodland Coalition. “Residents must have the final vote on any more rezones of large agricultural parcels in Goleta.”

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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