The developer of a housing project proposed in and around Rancho Maria Golf Club in Orcutt won a delay of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission’s intended decision to recommend denial of the project June 30.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to continue the hearing on the Neighborhoods of Willow Creek and Hidden Canyon until Aug. 11 over objections of the golf course owners who asked the commission to recommend the Board of Supervisors reject the project.

The current proposal calls for 129 single-family homes in two separate communities constructed between and around the holes of the golf course.

Some commissioners said the existing project is not acceptable, and some said such a standalone plan would not work, but they were also reluctant to have the developer come up with a completely new proposal involving their property and Rancho Maria with the golf course owners as co-applicants.

“I can’t see how a self-contained plan can work,” said 3rd District Commissioner John Parke, who also said the commission needed to give the developer another chance at making revisions, which he had suggested to the Planning and Development Department staff.

“If you don’t like this, don’t blame staff or anyone else,” he said. “Blame me.”

At a previous hearing on the project, the commission asked the staff to prepare findings that would support a recommendation to deny the project, but at their May 12 meeting, commissioners unanimously agreed to continue the matter to June 30 to give the developer time to attend a mediation hearing with the project’s lender.

But on June 30, an Orcutt Rancho LLC representative asked the commission to delay the vote yet again to allow the developers to attend a final mediation hearing with the lender and Rancho Maria representatives.

Frances Romero said Orcutt Rancho intends to appoint an independent, unbiased chief development officer to the project team to analyze the existing plan, consider issues raised by golf course owners, neighbors and other interested parties to determine how the project must be redesigned.

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Rancho Maria representative Cheryl O’Keefe Severn countered that redesigning the existing project would not solve all the environmental and other issues that had been raised.

She said the golf course owners would not cooperate with Orcutt Rancho unless the current proposal was denied and a specific plan is jointly developed and submitted for the entire Key Site 21 identified in the Orcutt Community Plan.

Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough agreed a self-contained plan for the housing development would not work, but that didn’t mean the developer had to start over from scratch.

“There is nothing preventing the applicant and Rancho Maria Golf Club from revising the project that’s no different than a full key site plan review,” he said. “I don’t get why [Rancho Maria] wants to spend more money and waste more time.”

Fourth District Commissioner and Chairman Larry Ferini reluctantly agreed to support the continuance.

“I don’t like this project and I don’t like the path it’s taken,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough project, no matter what, because of the proximity [to Rancho Maria] and all the environmental issues identified.”

First District Commissioner Michael Cooney boiled down the issue: “It’s a simple request for a continuance. I don’t see severe damage to the golf course by waiting another month.”

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