From: Gaviota Coast Conservancy
Date: September 2, 2015
Media contacts: Ana Citrin, Esq., Law Office of Marc Chytilo, 570-4190
Phil McKenna, Gaviota Coast Conservancy President, 682-0302
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SUPERVISORS DENY LAS VARAS RANCH PROJECT
On Tuesday September 1, 2015 the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to deny the Las Varas Ranch Lot Line Adjustments, Subdivision, Conditional Use Permit, and Coastal Development Permits, underscoring the community’s interest in protecting the integrity and natural resources of a working Gaviota Coast ranch. The County Planning Commission had recommended in April that the Board deny the Project.
The Las Varas Ranch Project proposed to reconfigure the existing lots on the 1800 acre agricultural Las Varas and Edward’s Ranches and create 2.5 to 5 acre residential “development envelopes” on each lot with driveways and water systems in order to maximize the land’s value for future residential development. While proponents of the Project argued the lot reconfiguration would not increase development potential, County Staff confirmed at the hearing that the Project would shift residential development potential from the inland side of Highway 101 onto the much more sensitive and valuable coastal zone south of the Highway. While the Project did not include the residential structures themselves, it was evident to many that the effect of the Project would be to pave the way for large lot luxury residential development and the gradual elimination of an otherwise productive and economically viable agricultural operation on the Gaviota Coast.
Las Varas Ranch has a significant history, including service as a prisoner of war camp during WW II, with a remnant of the camp’s water tower still visible from Highway 101. The views across the Ranch’s pastoral lands are extraordinary, while the creeks, grasslands and coastline each have high natural resource values. Conversion of Las Varas Ranch from agriculture to luxury residential estates would permanently change the face of this part of the Gaviota Coast.
Las Varas Ranch is one of the few remaining operational ranches on the Gaviota Coast that has not voluntarily protected its agricultural operation under the Williamson Act (which provides tax incentives to keep land in active agriculture) or through conservation easements. The Project Description failed to include meaningful protections for future agriculture, proposing only weak CC&Rs with questionable enforceability. The lack of protection for agriculture in a project that would clearly facilitate future luxury residential development on agricultural lands undermined the applicant and led to sharp criticism of the project.
Supervisor Doreen Farr led the Board’s deliberations by listing a host of reasons why she could not support the Project, ranging from her disagreement with the conclusions in the Environmental Impact Report, to the infeasibility of the proposed CC&Rs to protect the agricultural operation, to the inadequacy of measures to protect the Ranch’s sensitive historic, biological and aesthetic resources. As suggested by the Planning Commission, the Supervisors recognized that the Project violated State and County policies protecting agricultural, biological and aesthetic resources. With denial of the reconfiguration of the Ranch, the agricultural operation can continue as it has for decades and the threat of increased mansionization of the Gaviota Coast has been slowed.
“The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is committed to preserving the rural character of the Gaviota Coast,” explained GCC’s President Phil McKenna, who addressed the Supervisors along with more than a dozen other community members and groups concerned over the Project. He continued: “this project was insidious, appearing nominal on its face, while in effect paving the way for development of this iconic Gaviota Coast ranch. GCC met with the applicant years ago and hoped to be able to find a mutually acceptable solution that addressed their estate planning needs while permanently protecting the views and resources of the ranch, but regrettably that was unsuccessful. GCC does not oppose all development, but in this case understood that the Project had the potential to substantially impact the Gaviota Coast and set an adverse precedent that could compromise other ranches. We thank the Planning Commission, County Planning staff, and the Board of Supervisors for recognizing that this was the wrong project for these lands.”
Ana Citrin, GCC’s attorney who addressed the Board of Supervisors, noted “While the Project was denied, the landowner retains economically viable uses of the ranch, including some potential residential uses in addition to the on-going agricultural operation. The County was well within its rights to reject this project in light of the numerous policy inconsistencies. The County has a legitimate interest in protecting the Gaviota Coast’s important agricultural, historic and natural resources from ill-considered development, and the Board’s decision to deny this project was founded in both good policy and the law.”
About The Gaviota Coast Conservancy:
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a tax exempt, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the rural character of the Gaviota Coast and its unique natural, scenic, agricultural, recreational, and cultural resources. GCC monitors all significant development on the Gaviota Coast, acting as a watchdog, reviewing EIRs, submitting comments, and filing appeals where necessary. Working through partnerships with other land conservation organizations, local landowners, resource agencies, and government entities, the Conservancy is promoting long-term strategies to protect the Gaviota Coast from the urban development that threatens this region.
For more information, visit http://gaviotacoastconservancy.org/.