An appeal of a gateway project planned for Clark Avenue at Highway 101 in Orcutt was denied Tuesday by unanimous vote of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors after hearing arguments from the appellants and the developer as well as support from adjacent mobile home park residents.
The Orcutt Gateway Retail Commercial Center was approved Aug. 14 by the County Planning Commission for a 5.95-acre parcel on the south side of Clark Avenue just west of the southbound Highway 101 ramps.
The project is proposed on the western portion of a parcel referred to as Key Site 2 in the Orcutt Community Plan, which allows for a commercial development totaling 283,500 square feet on the entire site.
As planned, the project will include a grocery store with an attached general retail unit, a restaurant with drive-through service and a gas station with a convenience store and attached mechanical car wash for a total of 49,921 square feet.
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The Planning Commission’s decision was subsequently appealed by a group calling itself Residents for Orcutt Sensible Growth, although none of the members attended the hearing Tuesday in Santa Maria.
They were represented by Tal Finney, a former deputy state controller who was involved with issues regarding administration of the California Environmental Quality Act, who told supervisors the residents who appealed the project were all working and unable to attend.
Several issues were cited in the appeal, including traffic and circulation impacts and the project’s effects on and potential injuries to residents of Sunny Hills Mobile Home Community, located directly south of the project site.
The appeal also cited staggered access roads for the project and another planned across Clark Avenue, air, soil and groundwater quality impacts and the potential for illegal activities to flourish behind the market.
But much of Finney’s presentation focused on the environmental impact report prepared for the Orcutt Community Plan, which he said was outdated and failed to adequately analyze the project’s effect on traffic and circulation.
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Tuesday morning, Finny delivered an alternative traffic study to the county that he said supported his position.
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“We can’t afford to plan developments based on 20-year-old documents,” he said.
Finney also said the project’s impacts should be analyzed with the cumulative effects of a smaller commercial project under construction on Key Site 4, a large commercial project proposed for Key Site 1 across Clark Avenue and a residential project proposed for Key Site 3 farther south.
But project developer Gavin Moores refuted a claim in the appeal that the project approval had been rushed and that the traffic and circulation impacts were inadequately studied.
“This is the culmination of five years of work,” he said. “It was not a rushed process at all. … In total, we have 12 traffic studies and updates as well.”
Although several impacts on Sunny Hills residents were cited in the appeal, a representative of that park and the adjacent Town & Country Mobile Home Estates delivered a letter of support for the project signed by residents of both parks.
“He’s pretty much working to accommodate all our needs,” David Hassett, manager of Sunny Hills and supervisor for both parks, said of Moores, adding park residents are “100% in favor of it.”
When Supervisor Peter Adam, whose 4th District includes the project site, asked Hassett if he knew who the appellants are, Hassett responded, “I have no idea.”
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Issues raised in the appeal also also were refuted by the County Planning and Development staff, who recommended rejecting the appeal.
Supervisors and staff took an extra-long lunch break to study the last-minute traffic report from the appellants before returning to finish the hearing.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Chris Sneddon, deputy director of transportation for the county, said of the study, adding it’s not consistent with the Orcutt Community Plan EIR, and used outdated information.
“This is 22 years old,” Adam said before moving to reject the appeal and approve the project and related variances. “Everybody’s known this was going to be a commercial project.”