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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 12:52 am | Fair 47º

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Judge Stalls Veronica Meadows Project

Environmentalists cheer tentative ruling against bridge to planned 25-home development.

The Veronica Meadows residential project may have to wait even longer to break ground: Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Anderle on Tuesday reaffirmed a tentative ruling in favor of environmentalists who claim the city’s approval of the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

The development, which consists of 25 single-family homes on a roughly 15-acre parcel across from Elings Park on Las Positas Road, was approved by the Santa Barbara City Council in December. A month later, the Citizens Planning Association filed suit against the developer, Mark Lee, and the city. This week’s ruling could send Lee and the city back to the drawing board.

Among other issues raised by the CPA, including creek setbacks and landslide stabilization measures, is the proposed construction of a bridge spanning Arroyo Burro Creek, meant to provide alternate access to the development, which currently can only be accessed from Alan Road.

Lee and supporters of the bridge, many of whom live on Alan Road, contended the bridge is essential to alleviate the congestion that could occur as the result of the project, as well as provide alternate pedestrian and bicycle access. The city had the discretion to approve the project, including the bridge, despite its significant and unavoidable (Class I) environmental impacts to Arroyo Burro Creek, said Steve Amerikaner, Lee’s attorney.

The CPA argued that the city should have considered possible alternatives to the bridge, including sole access through Alan Road. Where the city could implement alternatives and mitigations and avoid Class I impacts, according to CEQA, the city should have done so instead of assuming all other alternatives were infeasible, said Marc Chytilo, lawyer for the CPA.

"We’re pleased that the judge today stated that he’s adopting his tentative ruling in our favor in this matter," said CPA executive director Naomi Kovacs.

Amerikaner declined to comment on Tuesday’s ruling until Anderle issues his final decision next month.

"There’s still a lot of work to be done in court," he said.

Unresolved is the issue of whether the city’s and developer’s obligation in this matter is merely to provide more information, or to rewrite sections of the project’s Environmental Impact Report, which could result in a recirculation of the document. Lee, the city and the CPA are expected to deal with the matter in court in the near future.

The court is expected to issue its final ruling at a Dec. 4 hearing.

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