Santa Barbara County Planning Commission
The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission — including Michael Cooney, left, Laura Bridley and John Parke — on Wednesday discusses the relocation of the Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center on its same property. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County planning commissioners on Wednesday approved relocating the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center to a new site on the same property so that county officials can conduct future debris management activities.

After a public outcry, the planning commission voted 5-0 to support relocating the Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian facility about 500 feet to the north on the same parcel. 

The area, at 4417 Calle Real, is the formal Foothill Landfill near the South Coast Recycling and Transfer Station, according to county staff.

The relocation is needed because the county Public Works Department plans to use the existing Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian location for routine maintenance at the Goleta Slough and emergency debris removal.

The Santa Barbara equestrian center occupies land that can manage potential debris next winter and for the foreseeable future, according to county staff. Sustained rains could trigger mud or debris flows below some recent fire burn scars in the county.

The debris must go somewhere, and Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian is the spot, Public Works Director Scott McGolpin told the commission.

“It’s not if Hearts moves, it’s when,” McGolpin said. “We have no idea what Mother Nature is going to bring us next winter.”

The total project area will cover about 3.5 acres within a nearly 145-acre parcel owned by the county Public Works Department. 

Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian sits on land that can accommodate an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of debris, McGolpin said. He mentioned that the county hasn’t found success in finding a permanent debris disposal site. County officials have been looking for years, he said.

Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian and the county worked jointly, McGolpin added. 

The county has eyed the nonprofit facility as a potential site for a while. 

“Probably over the last two decades, we have looked for an acceptable site on the (Santa Barbara County) South Coast that we can use,” McGolpin said. “We haven’t found any private property, yet, that we can acquire, so we have to use county facilities until we can do that — this (Hearts Equestrian) is the place.”

Founded in 1985, the Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center provides equine-assisted activities to help people in the county with a variety of special needs and conditions.

The organization has been at its current location on county property for more than 20 years.

Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian board member Barrett Reed said the organization is “relocating due to an important and time-sensitive need of public works.” He said the new site will satisfy the organization’s work. The relocation isn’t an opportunity for expansion or growth. 

“We are keeping our services and our capacity largely the same,” Reed said. “Our structures are largely the same.”

The project is in the district of commissioner Laura Bridley.

She said she “appreciated” talking with neighbors near the project and heard their concerns.

Bridley introduced a motion calling for approval of the project as presented by county staff, as well as the required findings for approval of the project as specified in the staff report, including CEQA findings, and determine the project is exempt from environmental review, among other conditions.

“That facility is golden public property for the benefit of the entire county,” the Second District commissioner said. “What public works has to do with it … that is land that will never be replaced and they were there first.”

Commissioners also addressed Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian’s waste management needs.

Larry Ferini, who represents the Fourth District, said he walked trails by the project area and “didn’t notice any problems.”

The riding facility is near the county Parks Department operations, the county Road Yard, the social service organization Alpha Resource Center and recreation areas.

The hilltop land is bordered by Calle Real and Highway 101. The Goleta Police Department and the Santa Barbara County Jail are located west of the property. Residential neighborhoods are located at El Sueno Road and Sherwood Drive on the east end of the parcel.

Several residents showed up to the meeting to make public comments on the proposal. Most speakers urged the planning commissioners to deny the project.

Residents in attendance contended that dust, noise and odors from the relocated Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian will create a nuisance, among other concerns. 

Pamela Mallen Poehler, a resident in the 500 block of El Sueno Road, said she lives less than 300 feet from the proposed project.

“This is the wrong location,” she said. “We matter, too. I understand these folks matter, and they do, but where they are is in a fine site, plus no alternative sites have been looked at.”

Massive trucks hauled sediment loads from the Cave Fire burn area debris basins and creek channels to Goleta last year, and Thomas Fire-area loads went to Carpinteria.

The county also transported loads to beaches two years ago, after the massive debris flows in Montecito, and sediments were moved to local landfills and out of the area.  

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.