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County Planning Commission Approves Changes to Golden Inn & Village in Santa Ynez

A unanimous Santa Barbara County Planning Commission approved retroactive changes Wednesday to what has become a fairly contentious affordable-housing project at Highway 246 and Refugio Road in Santa Ynez, leaving at least one nearby neighbor vowing he'll fight the decision.

Mark Brooks, who lives on Lucky Lane behind the Golden Inn & Village project that opened last year, said he plans to appeal the commission's ruling to the Board of Supervisors.

"The only way we don't appeal today is (if you) let them put in the lights and let us decide," Brooks told the commissioners.

The supervisors approved the Golden Inn & Village project in 2014, which was built in partnership with the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara County.

Development includes low-income apartments for seniors and low-income family apartments. It will eventually include a senior care and assisted living facility.

Initially embraced by the neighborhood, the project's exterior lighting and drainage have caused complaints from neighbors.

"Unfortunately, the project approved isn't the project that was built," neighbor Patti Stewart said. "Dissent was averted by concealed square footage that is now disclosed … as a typographical error."

The project was approved to have 8-foot parking light poles but was constructed with 20-foot parking light poles. A project lighting consultant said the change was made after realizing the shorter poles didn't meet standards.

Issues with exterior lighting at the project's tot lot, which has been reduced from full wattage to 50 percent at dusk, as well balcony lights, which will now be turned off at 9 p.m., have also come up.

Santa Barbara County Housing Authority Commissioner Mickey Flacks told the commission a large part of the problem with the Golden Inn & Village was the project bringing light to an area where it was once dark.

"I would urge the neighbors (to remember) that they live in a neighborhood," Flacks said. "They don't live in a rural ranch where they have every right and every expectation of total privacy with nothing surrounding them for acres and acres. They live in a neighborhood where other neighbors will come, leave and come again. That's the nature of neighborhoods."

Lisa Plowman, of RRM Design Group, said every effort has been made to work with Brooks to address his concerns, such as planting trees to obscure his view and block light, and also said it's the nature of projects to change from the time of conceptual approval to construction approval.

"When you are in conceptual drawings, it is conceptual," Plowman said. "In construction, things change. When you get out into the field, things are really different than what you anticipated. It's really common."

Neighbors have also alleged the county didn't monitor project construction, leading to numerous requests for changes after construction.

County planning staff has said any changes have been minor and don't affect the overall scope of the project.

Neighbors have also been concerned about the project's drainage.

RRM contends the flooding that occurs on Lucky Lane is the result of undersized culverts on the road and not the construction of Golden Inn & Village. 

"That is a problem that needs to be resolved by the homeowners association," Plowman said. "That is a private road. They need to figure out what to do."

Commissioners heard requests for changes to the project at its Aug. 30 meeting but continued the items to Wednesday to give neighbors and the developer additional time to resolve their differences.

"We feel we have a much better understanding of the project and its problems than we would have if (the neighbors) had simply shrugged their shoulders and said, 'It's not going to change. We are just going to have to live with it,'" said Chairman Michael Cooney.

He added, "I think the appropriate step is for us to move it along."

An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed a quote to Jon Frye with county flood control.

Noozhawk contributing writer April Charlton can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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