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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 8:24 pm | Fair 52º


Santa Barbara County Planners Give Thumbs Up to Isla Vista Community Center

Facility is planned for the county-owned building at 976 Embarcadero del Mar

The County Planning Commission OK’d the plan to turn a former church building into an Isla Vista community center, so the next steps are a coastal development permit and remodeling work. Click to view larger
The County Planning Commission OK’d the plan to turn a former church building into an Isla Vista community center, so the next steps are a coastal development permit and remodeling work.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

While there is no shortage of changes that the county, UC Santa Barbara and the residents themselves want to enact in Isla Vista, some progress was made this week on the plan to develop a community center — a place where members of the unincorporated area can gather gather for recreational, social and educational activities.

That dream took a big step toward becoming reality Wednesday when the County Planning Commission quickly and unanimously gave its approval for the county to turn an abandoned church building at 976 Embarcadero del Mar into the long-awaited community center.

The decision came as Isla Vista is gearing up to vote in November on whether or not to form a community service district as a limited form of self-governance, which would have the power to acquire and maintain community facilities.

The Planning Commission’s decision was based entirely on whether or not a community center is similar enough to the permitted uses of the commercial zone in which it would be located.

The one-story, 3,600-square-foot building sits at the southwest end of I.V.’s “loop,” formed by Embarcadero del Mar and Embarcadero del Norte, where the town’s businesses and restaurants are located.

The retail commercial C-2 zoning district, as it’s called, allows for business, professional and trade schools; amusement enterprises; indoor theater; spas or health clubs; and non-residential child-care centers, among other related uses.

County planner Joyce Gerber told the commission that, for instance, community center classes on arts and crafts, personal finance management, or computer literacy are substantially similar to “business, professional and trade schools.”

Likewise, she said, after-school programs and child day-care programs, for example, are similar to a “non-residential child-care center,” movie nights and music performances are effectively “amusement enterprises,” and yoga and exercise classes can fall under a “spa or health club” banner.

Turning the site into a proper community center, Gerber added, would require internal and external remodeling, which would be done in phases over roughly five years.

The center and its programs would be administered either by the county or under contract with the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District.

“We really need an alternative to the party culture out there, and this building is perfect,” said Pegeen Soutar, chair of the IVRPD board and speaking as an individual, during the commission meeting. 

The building was owned and operated by St. Athanasius Orthodox Church prior to 2008, when it came under the ownership of the Isla Vista Redevelopment Agency.

The county acquired the building in 2014 after the dissolution of the redevelopment agency, and the county’s Isla Vista Master Plan, adopted in 2007, had already envisioned the space as a community center.

The next step for a community center would be securing a coastal development permit, which would be subject to approval by the county and potentially subject to conditions, such as noise restrictions.

After that approval, Gerber said, community center programming could begin.

The Planning Commission also continued a hearing about the Gaviota Master Plan, which will likely be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors later this year.

The document lays out the planning goals, policies and development standards for future land use in the scenic, 158-square-mile area, which is bound by Goleta to the east, the Vandenberg Air Force Base to the west, the ridgeline of the Santa Ynez Mountains and Gaviota Creek watershed to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south and west.

Enacting the plan requires the county Board of Supervisors to change the county’s Comprehensive Plan, zoning regulations and Coastal Land Use Plan — changes that the Planning Commission will recommend to the board once the plan’s details are hammered out.

According to the draft Gaviota Coast Plan, the area was last reviewed for land use and zoning in the early 1980s, during the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan.

The Gaviota Coast Plan was formulated by the Gaviota Coast Planning Advisory Committee and is intended to “preserve the rural character of Gaviota by protecting and enhancing its varied and unique natural and cultural resources, agricultural production, and by enhancing public recreation and access consistent with the capacity of its resources.”

The Planning Commission will continue examining the plan and finalizing its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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