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Property Owner for Proposed Montecito Fire Station 3 Won’t Extend Purchase Agreement

The station would increase protection on the eastern end of the district, but plans have been progressing slowly

The Montecito Fire Protection District board got news this week that the property owner of the proposed Station 3 site will not extend the five-year-old purchase agreement for the land at 2500 East Valley Road.

Petan Company manager James Jackson sent Fire Chief Chip Hickman and the board a letter explaining that the company would not be extending or renegotiating the purchase agreement past the Dec. 31 expiration date. The agreed-upon cost was about $1.2 million, Hickman said.

Jackson wrote that there have been significant changes since 2008 — to the property’s value and with the creation of a neighborhood organization strongly opposed to the project site — and the owners don’t want to be in limbo for another five years.

There are still concerns about whether the district has the money to operate a station, and there are studies being commissioned to determine if a third station is even needed, Jackson wrote.

Hickman said he was “very disappointed and saddened” that the group didn’t want to extend the agreement.

Station 3 has been proposed to increase fire protection on the eastern end of the district, but plans have been moving forward slowly, particularly since a Superior Court judge invalidated the environmental impact report.

The project was challenged in court by neighboring property owners and the fire district board is having the consultant firm, AMEC Earth and Environmental Inc., fix the documents and get them re-certified for free.

That process is likely to take six months at least, said Mark Manion, counsel for the district from Price, Postel and Parma.

Directors weren’t sure what to make of the letter from Jackson, but asked Hickman to get more clarity on its intent. They plan to discuss buying the property more in-depth at a future closed session meeting.

The board didn’t interpret the letter as an end to the project at this site, and the district might decide to try to negotiate a new purchase agreement. Manion pointed out that the district could also discuss pursuing eminent domain — taking private property for public use — for the land.

Director Abe Powell said he was “surprised and disappointed” that the company would preclude an extension before the agreement even ended. The news appears to be a setback, but the agreement was very restrictive and a new one could provide more flexibility for the district, he said.

The district acted in good faith to do its due diligence, including an EIR, and “it doesn’t feel good to be criticized that it’s taken longer than anybody hoped,” he said.

The letter didn’t close the door on future negotiations, but Jackson wrote: “We felt it would be only fair and considerate that we let you know our position as soon as possible and let you know that if our property continues to be the chosen site, it will have to be acquired in some other way other than under the existing option agreement.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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