Residents challenged approval of the Orcutt Gateway project, a shopping center proposed for six acres of land south of Clark Avenue.
Residents challenged approval of the Orcutt Gateway project, a shopping center proposed for six acres of land south of Clark Avenue. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Claiming an Orcutt shopping center’s approval relied upon an “antiquated” environmental document, opponents have filed legal action against Santa Barbara County asking a court to demand further analysis of potential impacts from the development.

Residents for Orcutt Sensible Growth and its president, Gina Lord-Garland, filed a petition for a writ of mandate in Santa Barbara County Superior Court against the county Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and project developer The Minson Company.

The legal action, submitted by attorneys Bruce Tepper and Tal Finney, came a month after the Board of Supervisors denied an appeal of the Orcutt Gateway Retail Commercial Center and approved the development proposed for nearly six acres south of East Clark Avenue.

The land also is part of an area dubbed Key Site 2 in the Orcutt Community Plan (OCP), a blueprint spelling out future development for the community and approved two decades ago.

The developer proposed 42,921 square feet of retail space, to include a grocery store, a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through operation, a building with more commercial space and a gas station with 12 fuel pumps, a convenience store and a car wash.

“The project approvals dismissed the project’s impacts on traffic, air quality, soil quality, ground water quality, noise and other issues in a cursory fashion based upon flawed and grossly outdated information that was not supported by substantial evidence,” the legal petition says. 

“Petitioners request that this court vacate and set aside the project approvals and compel respondents to undertake a reasonably appropriate environmental review that should have been done under CEQA.”

The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, requires state and local agencies to identify any significant environmental impacts for projects and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if possible.

Opponents have argued the development would negatively impact Sunny Hills Mobile Home Park and other Orcutt residents.

In two of the four causes of action, the legal petition said all feasible mitigation measures weren’t considered and the project failed to conform to air quality, transportation, traffic and anti-urban-sprawl laws and regulations.

Other causes of action contended the county’s findings were not supported by substantial evidence and that officials provided inadequate responses to comments.

The legal petition seeks to force the county to prepare a new environmental impact report, contending components of a 1997 document have changed, “nullifying the usefulness of the Final EIR which was erroneously relied upon in adopting the findings.”

The report also alleged improprieties because the hearing occurred in Santa Maria, although it’s standard practice for North County topics to be handled at Santa Maria meetings with remote video testimony from Santa Barbara.

In addition to demanding the county set aside the approval of the project, the legal action seeks “a reasonable and appropriate environmental review,” attorneys’ fees and other relief deemed appropriate by the court. 

The Planning Commission approved the Orcutt Gateway project in August, but Residents for Orcutt Sensible Growth appealed. The Board of Supervisors reviewed the plan in November, rejecting the eleventh-hour appeal and unanimously giving their approval. 

During the board’s hearing, County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni disagreed with the Orcutt group’s attorney’s criticism of the older environmental document. 

Ghizzoni said state law set a high bar for requiring additional environmental review in cases like this.

While the county relied on the Orcutt Community Plan’s EIR, it also referred to a more recently completed supplemental report focused on the specific development. 

The petition was filed last week and Santa Barbara County likely will respond in coming weeks.

The case has been assigned to Santa Barbara Judge Thomas Anderle.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.