Thursday, June 25, 2009

Naples development project runs into another wall

by Sam Womack/Staff Writer

June 24, 2009

True to form when dealing with the contentious luxury-housing development at Naples on the Gaviota Coast, confusion reigned Tuesday before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

The board majority directed planning staff to return in August with analysis of the complicated situation and recommendations for moving forward.

“It seems like just another major stall — that the board majority is stalling the project again,” said 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray, who abstained from voting along with Joe Centeno, representing the 5th District.

The project was approved in October for 71 homes stretching from the Gaviota coastline to the hills north of Highway 101 on Santa Barbara Ranch and Dos Pueblos Ranch property.

Since then, a legal decision by the Board of Supervisors in February, prompted the developer, Matt Osgood, to reject a seven-year contract with the county, causing speculations to abound.

Project opponents said Osgood’s rejection nullified the coastal portion of the project, while Osgood’s attorney, Stanley Lamport, said the 16 homes approved for the coastline are a go.

“We’ll move forward, but without the terms of the (memorandum of understanding),” Lamport told the board Tuesday.

But the board was still unclear, and in her motion, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr requested that a hearing be noticed and scheduled to “consider possible recision of the ordinance that governs the development agreement.”

After approving the Santa Barbara Ranch project, the county entered into a development agreement with Osgood for the coastal and inland projects.

Both agreements lack essential approvals from outside agencies that would be required before they are considered effective, according to county staff.

Farr’s motion reveals a desire to investigate whether those agreements could be annulled considering the real or perceived changes initiated by the county and Osgood.

The environmental groups that have dogged this project since it was first proposed a decade ago were satisfied by the hearing’s outcome.

“I think that certainly we’re all pleased that the Board of Supervisors is taking a hard look at these issues, and taking their time to really figure things out,” said Nathan Alley, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center, representing the Surfrider Foundation.

“They should proceed carefully because the future of the Gaviota Coast is essentially at stake,” he added.

In past hearings, hundreds of mainly South Coast residents gave impassioned pleas to the board urging protection of the largely undeveloped coastline.

The supervisors must also decide if the coastal and inland portions of the development are linked.

Based on interpretations of the agreement between the county and Osgood, the homes and infrastructure located outside of the coastal zone could be put on hold until the residences on the coastline are approved by the state Coastal Commission.

If the answer is no, there is still infrastructure necessary to the inland construction that would be located in the coastal zone, and would also be subject to commission approval.

At any time during the approval process, opponents of the development can appeal applicable decisions to the Coastal Commission.

The ace in the developer’s sleeve is that if the Santa Barbara Ranch project is not salvaged, then the land zoning reverts back to an “antiquated subdivision” map that includes 274 legal parcels.

“Do you want ... 16 lots in the coastal zone or we could go with 150 lots south of Highway 101?,” Lamport reminded the board.

June 24, 2009

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