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Santa Barbara Council Backs City’s Annexation of Natural History Museum Parcels

Additional land is key to museum's long-term renovation and expansion plans intended to enhance visitors' experiences

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History wants to bring its five-acre campus entirely within Santa Barbara city limits, a move that officials believe will enable a smoother approval for its long-range plans.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History wants to bring its five-acre campus entirely within Santa Barbara city limits, a move that officials believe will enable a smoother approval for its long-range plans. (Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History photo)

The Santa Barbara City Council has voted to annex several Santa Barbara County parcels around the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, a move that eventually will allow the museum to dramatically overhaul the Mission Canyon facility.

The Local Agency Formation Commission must still discuss and vote on the annexation issue, but the council’s endorsement will allow LAFCO to approve the endorsement.

The annexation is a goal of the museum’s Master Plan for its property at 2559 Puesta del Sol Road. Over the course of the next 10 to 15 years, the museum would like to make changes designed to enhance the museum experience, including a new butterfly garden, and renovating the marine, paleo and Chumash halls.

“For 45 years, the museum has been the steward of the approximately five-acre oak woodland that occupies the western portion of its property,” said Luke Swetland, the museum’s president and CEO.

“Those woods lie in the county while the rest of the museum is in the city. The annexation of the woods into the city will bring our entire property under one jurisdiction and ensure the woods are preserved as is for generations to come under our recently approved conditional-use permit.”

In addition, the museum would like to develop an enhanced bioswale with a boardwalk and overlook, and restore the woodland area by replacing non-native plants with native ones.

“I think this land will be better under city watch,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said.

The council backed the annexation on a 6-0 vote Tuesday. Councilman Bendy White was absent.

The museum-owned western parcels are largely undeveloped, with public trails and a single-family home. The museum also wants the city to annex two additional privately owned parcels, but those efforts are still in the works.

Museum officials say it is easier to navigate approvals through the City of Santa Barbara rather than the county, so bringing all of the nearby parcels into one municipality will allow smoother development approvals going forward.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s long-term plans include renovating several of its halls and adding a butterfly garden on the grounds. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s long-term plans include renovating several of its halls and adding a butterfly garden on the grounds.  (Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History photo)

As part of the annexation, the museum will have to detach from the Mission Canyon Lighting District and County Fire Protection District.

Some neighbors spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in opposition to the annexation and expansion. They are concerned about the museum developing the property or selling it to a private developer, which would bring property tax revenue to the city.

“I just don’t know where to start with this,” Roseanne Crawford said. “It’s all wrong. The character of the area will be changed.”

The City Council, however, is convinced that the museum has the community’s interest in mind.

“I believe the intention of the natural history museum is to preserve that open space,” Councilman Dale Francisco said. 

Councilman Gregg Hart also supported the museum’s plans.

“This has been talked about for a very long time,” he said. “We’ll make sure that the condition of the woodland will be protected for future generations.”

The museum’s plans also call for the conversion of office space into a new “science on site” gallery so visitors can experience real-time science at the museum. The existing creekside office will be transformed into a nature observatory.

In addition to habitat restoration and expanded passive public use, the museum plans wide improvements to its landscaping. Crews will also install new air conditioning and build new restrooms in Fleischmann Auditorium.

The project includes a proposed new sidewalk along the south side of Puesta del Sol Road.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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