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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:04 pm | Fair 49º


Veronica Meadows Developer Spends $250,000 to Help Win Approval for Measure Y

Voters to get their say on a bridge Tuesday as opponents and proponents battle to the wire

[Noozhawk’s note: A previous version of this story included incomplete financial data. The corrected story is below.]

Veronica Meadows developer Mark Lee has spent $250,000 on the fight to get his housing project built.

Lee’s company, Peaks-Las Positas Partners, has contributed all the money to the campaign supporting Measure Y, which would allow a concrete access bridge to be built partly on undeveloped land the City of Santa Barbara owns between the development and Las Positas Road. Lee has paid for the election costs and would foot the bill for the bridge construction and creek restoration if Measure Y is approved by voters Tuesday.

The 25-house development was approved by the city, but a civil suit required the bridge component to go before voters. If the measure passes Tuesday, the housing development moves forward. If the measure fails, Lee will have to look at alternative routes for a main access road, such as through the nearby Alan Road neighborhood.

However, the creek restoration that Lee has promised — a key component of the plan — still must be designed and approved by the city, community development director Paul Casey said.

Lee’s supporters say it’s an environmentally beneficial project. The city’s available creek funding “wouldn’t be able to do restoration this robust,” Councilman Grant House has said.

The project promises other public benefits, as well, including a pedestrian and bike pathway through the property from Elings Park toward Arroyo Burro Beach.

Project opponents argue that it would “gift” city parkland to a private developer, and the No on Y: Save Our Parkland campaign has raised $26,686 to fight the measure.

Patagonia, which is headquartered in Ventura, contributed $8,500 and the rest came from local individuals, including Marc Chytilo, the environmental attorney leading the campaign; politicians; and Heal the Ocean executive director Hillary Hauser. The The Fund for Santa Barbara gave $3,000 and other groups include the Allied Neighborhoods Association of Santa Barbara, Citizens Planning Association,Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council and the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee.

The opponents argue that the bridge would negatively affect the creek habitat — the environmental impact report concluded there would be significant impacts from clearing a portion of vegetation for the bridge to be built — and worsen traffic along Las Positas Road.

Although the city parkland and creek access has never been improved, Mayor Helene Schneider said Measure B creeks funding can be used to restore the creek in partnership with grant funding.

Alan Road residents of the neighborhood to the south mostly oppose the project, although they supported it in the beginning. Ramona Escobar said she felt “duped,” while others say they’re worried about impacts on the creek environment and encroachment on their backyards that border the creek.

The undeveloped city parkland was always envisioned as remaining open space, not a grassy lawn with a children’s playground, Casey noted.

The Veronica Meadows project has been a long time in development, maneuvering through the city’s review process for more than a decade.

The review process gives a lot of discretion to oversight boards, but decisions are based on city zoning and General Plan policies.

Developers add public benefit aspects to “sweeten the pot” for project approval all the time, Casey said. Projects have added more affordable housing units than required, provided public parking or donated land.

While there’s no precedent for the city allowing private developers to use parkland for a project, one other development has been on the ballot in Santa Barbara: the late Fess Parker’s waterfront hotel, which is now Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort at 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd.

While Veronica Meadows was forced to the ballot by a judge after gaining approval through the design review process, Parker tried to win approval through a ballot initiative.

Both offered public benefits with their plans, too. As Lee has pledged to fund and design a creek restoration plan, designate unused land as open space and add a public pedestrian/bike pathway, Parker donated half the land that became the expansion of Chase Palm Park.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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