Developers of a Vandenberg Village housing project four years in the making will have to try incorporating a pocket park, come up with additional mitigation measures and establish a way to manage those measures in perpetuity.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1, with 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf dissenting, to delay a decision on Oak Hills Estate, a phased and clustered 29-home subdivision between the Burton Mesa Ecological Preserve and Oak Hill Drive.
In its decision Tuesday, the board asked the developers to come up with a plan to restore a drainage area that bisects the property, incorporate a pocket park, find additional off-site locations to apply mitigation measures to offset the project’s impact and develop a funding mechanism to manage those measures in perpetuity.
Wolf voted against the motion to delay the decision because she objected to the required zone change to increase the housing density on the 16.88-acre parcel. Under the existing Rural Ranchette-10 zoning, only one residence would be allowed. Under the requested Design Residential-1.8 zoning, up to 30 residences would be allowed.
David Swenk of Urban Planning Concepts, agent for owners Oak Hills Estate LLC, said the General Plan calls for 12.3 units per acre, which would be more than 200 residences.
“Over 50 percent of the area is in open space,” Swenk said. “We provided the largest buffer we could.”
But Wolf wasn’t swayed.
“I think the whole issue of the rezoning is such a big deal,” Wolf said, adding that she couldn’t see where the subdivision would be providing any public benefit. “I can’t make the findings there is a community benefit to this project.”
She also thought the developers and county staff should have opted for the second preferred environmental alternative of 20 homes rather than 29.
“To me, if we’re looking at what is the best way to get us housing in a very special place, it is the 20-home option,” Wolf said from the board chambers in Santa Barbara, where she and 1st District Supervisor and Chairman Das Williams were participating in the Santa Maria meeting via streaming video.
But County Planning and Development Department staff members said while 20 homes would lessen the environmental impact of the project, the same mitigation measures would be required for 29, and fewer homes would reduce the economic viability of the development.
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann also questioned how the public would benefit from higher-density housing and suggested using one of the residential lots to create a pocket park.
She also expressed doubt that the developers were doing enough to mitigate the project’s environmental impacts and asked if the drainage that bisects the project could also be restored.
“I’m prepared to support the number of homes,” Hartmann said. “But I am concerned about mitigations. This is extremely sensitive habitat.”
The revised environmental impact report found only one Class 1 impact — on aesthetics, as there would be structures built where none had existed before and it would impede some views — and nine Class 2 impacts that could be reduced through mitigation measures.
Class 2 impacts involved aesthetics, biological resources, cultural resources, geology, water quality, noise, solid waste, traffic and fire protection.
Endangered species at the site include the Vandenberg monkey flower, El Segundo blue butterfly, California red-legged frog and potentially fairy shrimp.
Steve Rodrigues, project planner for the county, said mitigation measures would include habitat restoration in the buffer zones along the north and west side of the project — saving existing sensitive plants and replacing chaparral that’s been removed.
To install the project’s infrastructure, 74 oaks would be removed, and those would have to be replaced at a 10-to-1 ratio, Rodrigues said.
The developers would plant some of the oaks, including mature trees, off-site at the south entrance to Vandenberg Village in an area known as Clubhouse Estates. Natural vegetation would also be planted on the 123-acre property owned by Vandenberg Village Community Services District.
Additional oaks might be removed by property owners as the homes are built.
“Worst case assumption, maybe another 53 trees,” Rodrigues said. “They would also have to be replaced at the 10-to-1 ratio.”
Supervisor Peter Adam disagreed with Wolf and Hartmann and was prepared to approve the zoning change and the project as presented.
“We’re talking about 29 houses here,” Adam said. “We’re not talking about 2,900. This is not a huge development that’s going to make a huge impact. I just think this is such a reasonable project. It’s already 50-percent open space. How hard can you squeeze on these guys?
“Everybody knows we need more housing,” he added. “Everybody knows we need more property tax.”
Adam went on to move that the board accept the staff recommendation.
“I hope we can put aside the petty — I think they’re petty — objections and approve this project,” he said.
But his motion failed to garner a second, although he got some support from 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
“When we put up an urban boundary line, that’s where we want housing to be,” he said. “I like the project. It sounds like everybody up here likes the project.”
But he also supported Hartmann’s position.
“I want to see it developed a little bit more with mitigation on-site,” Lavagnino said.
In the end, the majority supported Hartmann’s substitute motion to delay further consideration until the June 19 meeting to give the developers and staff time to work out solutions to the pocket park, drainage restoration and additional mitigation measures.