Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Supes split Naples into two projects


In a closed session meeting yesterday, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors agreed to split a residential development proposed near the Gaviota Coast into two separate chunks, a move environmental groups say will increase the likelihood of homes being built there.
The development, known as the Naples project, now consists of inland and coastal portions, according to a memorandum of understanding between developer Matt Osgood and the county of Santa Barbara.

During the board’s public comment period, activists who have long fought for the preservation of the Gaviota Coast, of which Naples is considered the eastern gateway, accused the board of thwarting the public process by amending the MOU behind closed doors.
“Making a decision of this matter in closed session quite frankly is cowardly,” said Marc Chytilo, legal counsel for the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. “I don’t doubt that we’re going to see this decision through in court at some point.”
By splitting the original Naples project into two pieces, Chytilo said the inland portion is now exempt of review by the California Coastal Commission — a fact he said will open the door to development if the Board of Supervisors officially approves the project at a special meeting this Monday.
However, Osgood said under the original MOU, the jurisdictional difference was always a stipulation, otherwise he said he never would have entered into the agreement in the first place.
When county legal counsel drafted the MOU in 2002, Osgood said it was everyone’s understanding that the portion of the project outside the jurisdiction of the Coastal Commission would be handled solely by the county’s approval process.
But he said the county’s current legal counsel informed him it could be read differently, and instead of leaving it to chance, Osgood said he wanted it changed and made clear.
“It was clear the MOU always understood and expected these to be separate projects,” he said.
Chytilo said he believes the MOU amendment is a last-ditch effort for the Board of Supervisors, which voted 3-2 to approve the amendment, to push through development while Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone is on the board.
Firestone, who is not seeking a second term on the board and whose district includes the Gaviota Coast, will be replaced by either Doreen Farr or Steve Pappas, both of whom have vehemently opposed development along the coast.
“Firestone is just fine with giving the Gaviota Coast away,” Chytilo said. “This is a last ditch attempt by Firestone and the North County majority to jam through as much development as they can approve before [he] goes away.”
Firestone said development at Naples isn’t even necessarily a decision that’s up to the supervisors.
“There are rights to develop out there,” he said. “There are legal lots and that’s never going to go away.”
Osgood agrees. He said his property is unique in that it is already divided into 219 legal lots, 150 of which he said could be built on.
In fact, Osgood said he could start selling off these lots tomorrow if he wished, or begin building. But instead, Osgood said he’s entered into a decade-long process with the county to pear it down to roughly 72 homes, 16 of which would be in the coastal zone and subject to Coastal Commission approval.
Firestone said splitting the project in two parts made it more “viable.”
Beyond the now-established inland portion of the Naples project, Chytilo said the coastal portion, which includes parts of neighboring Dos Pueblos Ranch, is still up for discussion and would have to be reviewed by the Coastal Commission.
However, Chytilo said the commission has, through written correspondence with the county, urged them not to split the project in two.
As a result, Chytilo said he believes the commission will likely deny the coastal project, if it gets that far, which would thwart cooperation from the owners of Dos Pueblos Ranch.
Chytilo said a large portion of the public trails and mitigation measures that would have ensured Coastal Commission approval of the Naples project are located on Dos Pueblos Ranch land.
If the commission denies the coastal project, which includes six homes on Dos Pueblos Ranch land, Chytilo said the owners have said they would back away from the project. If that happens he said the county could be stuck with more homes than it ever bargained for.
But Osgood said even in the coastal zone, he legally has the right to sell or build on more than 60 lots, of which he only proposes building on 16. If the Coastal Commission denies this plan, which he said he doubts, the county and the commission will simply end up with a far denser project.
“If the county were to not approve this,” Osgood said. “It means I would go off and submit an application with far more density than I would have in the merger plan.
“It will not be good for the land or the area.”
To further compound the situation, Chytilo said he feels the planning process “was turned on its head” as a result of the closed-door vote.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who voted against the amendment with fellow South County Supervisor Janet Wolf, said he felt it was wrong to bifurcate the project.
More important than whether the amendment opens the door to development on the Gaviota Coast, according to Carbajal, is the amendment and the way it was handled, is simply bad planning.
Carbajal said one of his main concerns is the infrastructure that would support the Naples project, which calls for 72 homes on the coast. He said the infrastructure has been contemplated, for at least the last six years, as one whole project, not two. And he said the environmental impact reports have considered it as such.
“I just think it’s not good land use policy to bifurcate and separate this project,” he said. “I think it’s one big project that should go to the Coastal Commission collectively.”
Chief Deputy County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said the board was well within the rules of the Brown Act to conduct the MOU discussion behind closed doors.
He said the original MOU between the county and Osgood, established in 2002, was to freeze litigation from the developer. As a result, he said yesterday’s discussion was taken up in the manner it was as a result of that litigation.
But Carbajal pointed out the original MOU was drafted and voted on before the public, and the public should have been privy to the amendment discussion as well.
“This amendment should not have been done in closed session,” he said.
Firestone said the accusations that the county somehow prevented public involvement are ridiculous. He pointed to Monday’s special meeting on the Naples project, which will likely be the only item on the agenda when it’s posted.
“That sounds like a public meeting to me,” he said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is the probability that some people are on the take?

Has anyone investigated any connections between the developer and the pro-development members of the board?