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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 3:24 am | Fog/Mist 53º


Santa Barbara Supervisors Deny Project Changes at Gaviota Coast Ranch

Preserving the Gaviota coastline has long been a contentious issue known to draw out leagues of public comment before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, and Tuesday’s meeting over the future of Las Varas Ranch was no exception.

Those on both side of the issue claimed they had the area’s preservation as the ultimate goal, but offered different approaches on how to get there.

The applicant of the Las Varas Ranch project is the Doheny family, represented by attorney Susan Petrovich of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck, who made the case that family patriarch, Tim Doheny, who died in 2009, had envisioned preserving his ranch land in its current state, and felt that a plan to create limited building envelopes with cattle grazing among the parcels would be the best way to do that.

Others, including the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, assert that the changes would pave the way for residential development in the area.

They took issue with the project’s environmental impact documents, and said that any improvements to the area made by the projects would be outweighed by the development possibilities.

The supervisors ultimately agreed with the latter group, voting 3-2, with Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam dissenting.

Before Tuesday’s vote, the county Planning Commission had voted to deny the project in April, except to approve two applications to rezone and a conditional certificate of compliance.

The Planning Commission said that the denial was primarily because the project was inconsistent with county and state policies, and that plans to address impacts to agricultural, biological and visual resources weren’t adequate.

The project involves a reconfiguration of the properties at the Gaviota Coast ranch, which Doheny purchased in 1969, and each parcel would have a residential development envelope, even though no residential development is proposed at this time.

However, development of a private shared water system and access-road improvements would go forward as part of the project.

The entire ranch is made up of 10 parcels, totaling about 1,800 acres. 

The project includes nine of the lots, seven of which are considered residentially developable, and involves lot-line adjustments and a tentative parcel map that would put two lots north of the highway and five lots on the ocean side.  

The project’s changes also accounted for shifting one developable lot from the north side of the highway to the south side.

Petrovich said that the project includes an offer of dedication, including three new public trails and a parking lot.  

The area has long attracted surfers to Edwards Point in the area, and the only access involves parking on the highway and trespassing on the property.

Only 14 acres out of 1,800 would be used for building envelopes, she said.

Doheny proposes no immediate development, she said, but that could change in the future.

Petrovich said that Tim Doheny started the project, and was considering what would happen to his estate after he died.

“His thought was, 'I need to have this land look in the long-term how it looks today,'” she said.

Several of the property’s neighbors thought approving the changes would preserve how the coast looks today, including Catherine Emerson, who farms avocados in Las Varas Canyon next to the Doheny’s property.

“The EIR is correct in that there are no significant impacts as far as I can see,” she said. 

Emerson also implored the supervisors to consider the property rights of the owners.

Phil McKenna of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy said that the property’s easements as set up are the foundation of their groups’ work to permanently preserve the coast.

“We strongly support your denial of this project,” he said.

Attorney Ana Citrin, from the office of Marc Chytilo, who is representing the GCC, said that the applicant continues to spin the facts in attempts to get the project approved.

Only seven of the existing parcels are developable anyway, Citriin said, and the changes would increase development potential in resource-sensitive areas.

Without the changes, any future development would be subject to a review process, including a coastal development plan, she said.

Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose district includes the ranch, thanked the Dohenys for their stewardship of the land, as well as the other ranching families who spoke.

Farr said that the family could have preserved the land by entering into a Williamson Act contract, which keeps the property in agricultural status in exchange for reduced property tax assessments.

“This is what the families do that are trying to do estate planning and preserve the ranch for future generations,” she said. “I do see that as the single best tool that could be utilized but wasn’t.”

Farr said she thought the changes could cascade into other impacts, and creating a water source that hasn’t been there makes development more attractive.

“It’s no accident that [Santa Barbara County] is a beautiful place,” she said, and that preservation at the Gaviota Coast is key to that beauty.

Supervisor Peter Adam said he felt there would be litigation and then the property could be split into pieces. 

“The Dohenys have been too generous if anything,” he said. “The project offers so much stuff that you’re going to wish you had taken that in 20 years when individuals purchase the pieces,”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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