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Local News

Bishop Ranch Project Going Back Before Goleta Council

The city's planning staff is requesting the help of an environmental consulting firm to review the plan

Potential development of Bishop Ranch will go back before the Goleta City Council on Tuesday, two years after the developers withdrew their application for a previous proposal.

Bishop Ranch 2000 LLC submitted its rather substantial application earlier in the spring. In fact, because the application to develop the 240 acres of agriculturally zoned land — which lies just north of Highway 101 and south of Cathedral Oaks Road — is multifaceted, is not included in the city’s General Plan, would require revisions to General Plan policies and would be bound to draw substantial public input if not controversy, city planners have requested assistance with the review of the proposed plans.

“The Planning and Environmental Services Department finds that the application requires significant fact gathering, validation and analysis before the City Council can make a meaningful decision on whether to initiate a study of any legislative changes,” according to the staff report.

To remedy the issue, the planning staff has requested the help of environmental consulting firm Jones & Stokes, now known as ICF International, to close gaps in the information needed for city leaders to make decisions on the project when the analysis is complete.

A project the size of the Bishop Ranch proposal will require further study on its relationship to other aspects of the development of Goleta, such as existing housing stock, City Manager Dan Singer said. According to the staff report, Bishop Ranch 2000 LLC is amenable to the request for consultation with the firm.

While it’s not clear yet exactly what the project would entail for what is the largest undeveloped swath of land on the South Coast, it’s likely that the project will look similar to the one presented in 2008, before the developers withdrew it, citing negative city reports.

Preliminary plans call for about 1,100 units of different types and densities, and open space around the more sensitive riparian areas. A neighborhood commercial area would take up the southwest corner of the property. An internal road would loop within the property. There would be two points of access from Cathedral Oaks Road to the north, and one from Glen Annie to the west.

Longtime Goleta residents may remember previous attempts to develop the ranch — efforts that go back as far as cityhood. The city mothers and fathers recognized the land as an agricultural asset, and thus designated it so. Meanwhile, the developers cite poor soil quality and the loss of agricultural water rights as reasons to consider residential development on that particular piece of land, as agricultural operations would be infeasible — in the view of Bishop Ranch 2000 LLC. They also argue that the land has historically been zoned residential, at least when Goleta was still Santa Barbara County terrain.

What makes this development proposal particularly sensitive is not just the size of the land, but the fact that it would require an amendment to the city’s General Plan. If the amendment were to be made for a planned community in the area, it would set a precedent for other agriculturally zoned properties to follow suit with development proposals.

The Shelby property, a smaller agriculturally zoned parcel of land in northwest Goleta, has been pursuing the same path, albeit unsuccessfully. Slow-growth die-hards in the community have lamented the potential loss of the scenic open space, the riparian resource and habitat for raptor species, and the loss of the historic agricultural character of Goleta.

Should any plans be approved, it still would take at least five years before the acquisition of the first building permits for the project.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens,” Singer said. “On the one hand, it’s a pretty straightforward item; on the other hand, it’s Bishop Ranch.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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