A proposal to build a grocery store, a restaurant and a gas station at the eastern edge of Orcutt earned the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approval on Tuesday.
In unanimously blessing the Orcutt Gateway Retail Commercial Center Project, the board rejected an appeal filed by Residents for Orcutt Sensible Growth, identified as a group of local residents contending they would be greatly affected by the development.
The project called for a new shopping center on six acres south of Clark Avenue between Highway 101 and Stillwell Road.
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 more than two decades ago
“I’m just going to cite that this is 22 years old. Everybody’s known that this is going to be a commercial parcel from 22 years ago, and they spent scads of time on the OCP,” Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said.
Planning commissioners and members of the Board of Architectural Review already approved the projects, Adam added.
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.
“This has been the cumulation of five years of work. This has not been a rushed process at all,” said applicant Gavin Moores. “It’s really disappointing to go through this amount of work … and to find such a late appeal come in with studies that are outdated and that are probably inaccurate as well.”
The appeal cited traffic circulation, air quality and public safety among concerns, county planner Dana Eady said.
The appellant, represented by Los Angeles-based attorney Tal Finney, called the project’s environmental impact report outdated since it was done in 1995 as part of the Orcutt Community Plan, with a supplemental report for the specific development completed in July 2019.
“The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors respective reliance on this outdated document is an improper abuse of discretion,” Finney said, calling for an analysis that assesses cumulative impacts of proposed developments near Highway 101.
County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni disagreed, saying state law sets a high bar for requiring additional environmental review in cases like this.
Much of the discussion Tuesday centered on traffic-related matters, including who should be responsible for required road improvements such as a proposed new signalized intersection and a median on Clark Avenue.
Chris Sneddon, Santa Barbara County Public Works Department deputy director of transportation, said the burden for those improvements typically would fall on the first developer.
“This is such a unique situation, where you have pretty major developments and a lot of key sites right next to each other,” Sneddon said.
“It seems to make sense to do some kind of fair-share ratio for the future improvements that this developer can’t build even if they came in today,” he said, adding that both staff and representatives were still working on reaching the number.
Adam said the developers could return to the board, if needed, to resolve the matter.
“There’s a recognition up here on the dais it’s a very odd circumstance, and it’s going to need to be massaged,”Adam said. “I think it’s something we should be able to work out.”
Meanwhile, construction has started for an unrelated smaller development at the corner East Clark Avenue and Stillwell Road.
Additionally, Key Site 1’s proposal for the Orcutt Marketplace, which is in the early review stages, calls for development of a 422,000-square-foot, mixed-use residential/commercial shopping center on the north side of Clark Avenue, just west of Highway 101.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.