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Local News

Ballantyne Project Clears Final Hurdle, Wins County Approval

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors clears the way for a 16,000-square-foot private estate on the Gaviota Coast.

Five years of public policy, two appeals and one environmental review later, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the “Ballantyne Project” at a public hearing on Tuesday. The vote passed 3-2 with Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf opposing. 

The proposed private home is situated on 17 acres of the Gaviota coastal area in the western portion of the Goleta Community Plan Area. It includes a 13,333-square-foot main house, 1,200-square-foot barn and a 1,368-square-foot guest home, for a total of almost 16,000 square feet of new development.

The applicants, Lynn Ballantyne and Randy Welty, have been through a roller coaster of public meetings for the past few years in an attempt to build their home. “We are very happy,” their representative, Richard Adam, said after Tuesday’s hearing. “We think it was the right decision.”

The ups and downs of public policy began in June 2006 when the Planning and Development Department denied their application. In November 2006, the Planning Commission approved the project in a 3-2 vote, only to be appealed by the Gaviota Coast Conservancy

The appeal, represented by attorney Marc Chytilo, came to fruition at a county Board of Supervisors meeting in June 2007. In a 3-2 vote, the board decided under the California Environmental Quality Act that the project must undergo an environmental review.

At Tuesday’s hearing, more than a year after the project first appeared before the Board of Supervisors, the board heard a report from Rincon Consultants, which had prepared a Proposed Final Mitigated Negative Declaration.

Rincon representative Joe Powers summarized the documents as having examined the 16 issues on the county environmental checklist. “(Of the 16), we found potentially significant impacts in two areas,” Powers said. “A high-hazard area for fire … and significant noise impact related to construction of the project.”

Powers proposed several solutions to these issues, including fire-resistant building materials, vegetation control and limiting construction hours. He also reported on the issue of aesthetics, saying “all evidence coupled with our own observations said there was no evidence there would be substantial effects,” and “it doesn’t create an aesthetically offensive reaction for the character of the area.”

The property is above Highway 101 on Farren Road and will include a 600-foot berm to shield views of the home from the highway. It has faced many complaints from neighbors who worry they will be able to see the structure from their homes.

Carbajal asked Powers if the proposed berm would be visible from the highway. Powers said that it would, but that once the area becomes revegetated he didn’t believe that it would be noticeable to the average viewer.

There was discussion between Carbajal and Powers over whether aesthetics have a quantified threshold, with Carbajal claiming there must be some criteria for being aesthetically significant and Powers saying aesthetics is inherently subjective.

Chitylo brought up concern over the berm, citing that policies to protect the area are reliant upon the actual structures, “not using another structure to hide it.”

To show that surrounding homes would be affected, Chitylo showed a photograph of a home in the Rancho Embarcadero neighborhood with the Ballantyne home, represented by a white tent, visible in the background. The demonstration proved counterproductive, however, as he had to use a laser pointer to point out the barely visible tent.

There was confusion, voiced by Carbajal, regarding the Goleta Water District‘s stance on the project. Chitylo quoted the GWD as saying of the hillside residence “we cannot deliver the required fire flow, and we would probably not meet department health services minimum pressure requirements.” Adams refuted this, asserting the GWD issued a “can and will serve” letter for the property. 

Adams said the PFMND document “speaks for itself- there is no possibility that there will be an environmental impact as a result to the project.” He accused the GCC of altering its position because it didn’t like the results of the environmental study analysis.

Richard Brenneman, representing the defendant along with Adam, said, “The GCC’s position is turning CEQA on its head. The concept is a threat, the concept that you can’t build if someone doesn’t want you to.”

The property is within Supervisor Brooks Firestone’s district, and he spoke first saying he believed that the applicant has “gone through all the hoops necessary” and approved the project without further review.

Carbajal said approving the project would set a bad precedent and that the PFMND was flawed. He suggested that the project requires an environmental impact report, and that the water and fire issues are significant. Referring back to the aesthetic standardization he was looking for earlier, Carbajal dissented.

Wolf followed suit, saying she also was “concerned with water issues, and most importantly the issue of policies and expectations in the community that need to be fulfilled.”

Supervisor Joni Gray said she supported Firestone and thought the most significant evidence that the home should be approved was when Chitylo took out his pointer to show everyone the white tent in the hills. 

Supervisor Joseph Centeno said he empathizes with the neighbors, but added, “We don’t know when we settle somewhere what is going to happen in contiguous properties.” He also pointed out that he is not offended by seeing houses in the Santa Barbara hills, and that all the different homes are what add to the community’s beauty. 

The vote reflected the board’s commentary and denied the GCC’s appeal, 3-2.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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