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Wedding Site Lands Ex-Bacara Owner in Hot Water with Coastal Commission

Resort draws $575,000 fine after unpermitted development on bluffs

The former owner of the Bacara Resort & Spa in western Goleta faces a $575,000 fine from the California Coastal Commission for building a site for weddings on a bluff top without proper permits.

SB Luxury Resort, an affiliate of Ohana Real Estate Investors and Rockpoint Group, will foot the bill for development completed at the 35-acre beachfront property that the California Coastal Commission alleges “had the potential to result in individual and cumulative adverse effects to the riparian habitat and creek within Bell Canyon,” according to a report decision the commission was set to hand down Thursday.

In February, Ohana sold the 360-room resort and conference center at 8301 Hollister Ave. to BRS Ventures, an affiliate of Pacific Hospitality Group LLC, after owning the property since 2011.

Last July, the Coastal Commission became aware of unpermitted work, which included transforming a bluff top that overlooked Haskell’s Beach on the hotel’s East Terrace into a grassy, wedding venue, entirely removing or significantly trimming non-native eucalyptus trees, placing sod and wood chips on the site, and locking a gate to prevent public access to the beach.

Commission findings showed that vegetation was removed in at least 2002, 2004 and 2006, with additional landscaping and placement of an irrigation system occurring after Aug. 28, 2010.

“While the coastal bluff habitat, coastal sage scrub and eucalyptus trees do not rise to the level of environmentally sensitive habitat … these habitats did provide significant natural resources to the area prior to the unpermitted development,” an ecologist wrote in the report.

The report, which will force the resort to fully restore the site, notes that the property has archaeological significance since Chumash Indians previously occupied the land.

Although Ohana could not be reached for comment Wednesday, the report includes a pledge to pay the fine signed by SB Luxury Resort Executive Manager Chris Smith.

Both SB Luxury Resort and BRS Ventures acknowledge in the report that the violations were known during the purchasing process.

“Bacara is committed to protecting our coastline and natural resources, and has pledged our full support to local nonprofits that further this mission,” Bacara Resort & Spa General Manager Kathleen Cochran said in a statement. “Bacara’s new ownership group takes this issue very seriously, and is committed to working amicably with the Coastal Commission on a beneficial resolution.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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