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Santa Barbara Will Spend $2.7 Million For Veronica Meadows Land, Designate As Open Space

City, Trust For Public Land partner up to buy the $4 million property bordering Las Positas Road

Santa Barbara and the Trust for Public Land are buying the undeveloped land previously slated for the Veronica Meadows luxury home development. Voters rejected Measure Y in 2012, which would have allowed developers to build an access bridge over Arroyo Burro Creek.
Santa Barbara and the Trust for Public Land are buying the undeveloped land previously slated for the Veronica Meadows luxury home development. Voters rejected Measure Y in 2012, which would have allowed developers to build an access bridge over Arroyo Burro Creek.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

Veronica Meadows, the 14.8 acre-site in the Las Positas Valley once targeted for 25 two-story, luxury mansions, will be preserved forever as open space. 

The Santa Barbara City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday afternoon to spend $2.7 million of Measure B creek restoration and water quality funds to acquire the land from developer Mark Lee.

The Trust For Public Land has raised $1.3 million in grand funds to complete the $4 million acquisition. The city will eventually take over title of the property.

"This will be one of those things I will be thinking about on my deathbed," said councilwoman Cathy Murillo, a longtime opponent of development and advocate for preserving open space at the site.

"This was a special place for a lot of people."

Veronica Meadows is owned by Mark Lee, who over the course of the last decade proposed several options for development at the site.

He first met massive opposition from residents of Alan Road, which feeds into the property, who did not welcome additional vehicular traffic in their neighborhood.

To please the neighbors, Lee proposed a different entrance to the property, from Las Positas Road.

In order to provide a road to the site, however, Lee needed to build a bridge over Arroyo Burro Creek, a move that enraged environmentalists who feared that the bridge and construction would disrupt fish passage and wildlife, and contribute to the erosion and quality of the creek water, which leads into the ocean.

As part of the deal, Lee proposed a massive, multimillion restoration — on his own dime — to build favor for the approval of the project.

Environmentalists, however, didn't trust his plan, and thought any restoration efforts should start with the premise of what's best for the community, not what's best for the private development.

Still, Lee eventually won majority approval from the then-City Council, with Mayor Helene Schneider and Harwood "Bendy" White in opposition, and it looked like development was inevitable.

But environmentalists sued, arguing that a public Arroyo Burro Creek could not be used to benefit a private development without approval from the voters.

Santa Barbara residents overwhelmingly rejected Measure Y in 2012, effectively blocking the development.

Lee could have built a much smaller, less profitable development on the site, with access through Alan Road, but chose not to. 

The Trust for Public Land then began negotiations to acquire the property from Lee, in partnership with the city of Santa Barbara.

White enthusiastically supported the deal, calling the acquisition a miracle.

"It is amazing that this city still can get ahold of land in nice chunks and make them into community open space even as the urban pressures go," White said.

Marc Chytilo, one of the attorneys and environmentalists who battled the project in court, said using the creek restoration funds to acquire the land made sense.

The city adds a 2-percent tax to its transient occupancy tax charged of hotel visitors to fund Measure B. 

"It's been a long time coming. You probably couldn't find a finer use of Measure B funds," Chytilo said.

"Open space is no longer being produced. We need to preserve what we have. These lands are clearly going to be of the greatest value as open space."

Councilman Dale Francisco supported the acquisition, but remarked that the city could have had creek restoration with no cost to taxpayers if it had embraced Lee's proposal.

"This was the second-best alternative available to us," Francisco said.

"The city repeatedly turned down private development. The $4 million  we are talking about today — every one is a tax dollar. We are also taking more land off the tax rolls."

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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