A lengthy saga to secure a new home for a nonprofit organization that served senior citizens and the broader Orcutt community won unanimous approval of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Orcutt Area Seniors in Service, or OASIS, has sought approval to build a 14,069-square-foot main building and a 1,592-square-foot ancillary barbecue/crafts building on the northwest corner of Clark Avenue and Foxenwood Lane, near the eastern entrance to Old Town Orcutt.
The project, within the vacant 5 acres identified as “Key Site 18/SouthPoint” in the Orcutt Community Plan, also includes the construction of a related access road, parking spaces, landscaping and private trails.
Chairman Bob Nelson, whose Fourth District includes Orcutt, said OASIS is the heart of the unincorporated community.
“I think an OASIS senior center is the right project. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity not only for the seniors but the community as a whole,” Nelson said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino agreed.
“It actually is a great project, and in this case it’s in the right spot,” Lavagnino said. “Like I said, there will be impacts, but sometimes there’s an overriding need in the community that exists that just makes your community a better place to live.”
He added that he believed OASIS would be a good neighbor, and likely better than baseball or soccer fields or an aquatic center.
The Luis OASIS Senior Center, 420 Soares Ave., currently operates in portable buildings experiencing a number of flaws. Those rundown structures sit on land leased from the Orcutt Union School District, which has told OASIS leaders that they need to find a new location because of plans for senior-housing development.
Opponents — homeowners in the nearby SouthPoint Estates development north of the OASIS site — united under the name Friends of Key Site 18.
Their attorney, Ana Citrin, contended that the OASIS site is the wrong location for the project and claimed the county would have to undo multiple layers of legal protection placed on the property to ensure it remained for open space and recreation.
“Make no mistake — the project OASIS is proposing is absolutely not contemplated by the OCP for Key Site 18, and the proposed meeting facility and community center are well beyond the recreational uses envisioned for Orcutt Creek Park,” Citrin said. “Suggestions to the contrary are simply not accurate.”
Some opponents lobbied for the project to be placed on Foster Road land deemed environmentally superior in an analysis. However, that site isn’t feasible, OASIS planning consultant Laurie Tamura said, ticking off a number of flaws, including that the county offered a lease for only 20 years and refused to indemnify the nonprofit organization if a federally protect species was harmed.
The Foster Road site reportedly is home to California tiger salamanders and California red-legged frogs, species that can severely hamper development plans.
“It just ended up being an infeasible effort for a nonprofit to take on,” Tamura said, contending that the project proposed for Key Site 18 remains consistent with the OCP. “We believe strongly that this is the right project at the right site and will allow the community to experience what should have been built a long time ago.”
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said that bypassing a recommendation in an environmental impact report normally would require a lot before she would consider overriding the document.
“In this case, however, I think there are significant community benefits, and I think it’s the programs for seniors,” Hartmann said.
The project also would provide a wider community recreational benefit with the proposed trail system, she added.
A number of people served by OASIS spoke in favor of the project, including Delores Luis. She and her husband, Jerry, who died in August, were strong supporters of the organization.
“With your approval of this project, his and my dream, and that of many other Orcutt seniors, will be fulfilled,” Luis said.
The project initially was expected to go to the board for approval last December, but it snagged over a number of easements and other issues that needed to be resolved.
Receiving approval from the Board of Supervisors marked a key hurdle for the project and could lead to launching a capital campaign in 2022 to raise funding for the construction.