OASIS’ plans to construct a new center for seniors near the eastern gateway to Old Town Orcutt won approval from the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission following a six-hour hearing at a special meeting Friday.

While commissioners changed a number of recommended conditions to the project to address their own concerns and others raised by the public, the vote was not unanimous, however.

First District Commissioner C. Michael Cooney dissented in the 4-1 vote, although he noted he did “not object to OASIS and what it does but where it does it.”

He said he didn’t want to change the Orcutt Community Plan to compromise its focus on preserving open space just to allow the project to move forward, but at the same time he also didn’t want his vote to block the project.

The rest of the commission said the importance and benefits of the senior center would outweigh the loss of a small amount of open space, reportedly just 0.0024% of the open space specified in the Orcutt Community Plan.

Third District Commissioner John Parke admitted to not knowing much about the project before it was set for a hearing at the special Friday meeting, and at that time, he questioned how it could be that important.

“Having gone to see the area and talking to people, I realized this is an extremely important project,” Parke said. “It touches everyone’s lives in the community.”

He was also critical of what 30 years of the site being open space had provided the community.

“It should be the jewel of Orcutt, and it can be, but it isn’t right now,” Parke said of the location, noting the project benefits will include restoration of the creek, providing public access and improving wildlife habitat.

But the organization that serves 5,000 individuals and families in the greater Orcutt area must still secure an OK from the county Board of Supervisors before it can construct a new 14,069-square-foot two-story main building and a 1,592-square-foot barbecue, crafts and storage building on the parcel alongside Orcutt Creek below Clark Avenue.

If approved by supervisors, the new center would replace the existing facility located at 420 Soares Ave. which is now in relocatable buildings the organization inherited from Orcutt Union School District.

“These [buildings] are probably 40 years old, maybe older,” said Michelle Southwick, development director for OASIS, an acronym for Orcutt Area Seniors In Service. “They’ve reached the end of their life.”

Sign up to receive headlines in your inbox!

Breaking News | Local Sports | Daily Headlines | Local Obituaries | Weather | Local Offers

The planned building location consists of 5 acres on the southeastern side of a 35-acre property referred to in the Orcutt Community Plan as Key Site 18.

The style of the proposed structures was described as “elegant barn” by Holly Owen, supervising planner for the North County.

The development plan also calls for a new access road, a water retention basin, a portion of the Orcutt Creek Trail bikeway segment and 143 parking spaces, although county ordinances would normally require 229.

Use of the facility would be limited to 12 events per year, with a maximum attendance of 200 people, including staff, that would each end by 9:30 p.m.

The project faced some opposition in the community because it’s proposed for land that was initially designated for a public park and open space in the Orcutt Community Plan, but it also had support from area seniors.

To allow the project to proceed, four general plan amendments to the Orcutt Community Plan must be approved along with changes to the conditions of approval for Southpoint Estates that involved the use of the site as a park and open space, Owen said.

It will also require the county to relinquish its development rights on the 5-acre site to OASIS and the Board of Supervisors to certify the environmental impact report.

Owen said the EIR identified five Class 1 impacts, which could not be mitigated to less than significant levels, and 12 Class 2 impacts.

Because of the Class 1 impacts, Owen said the board would have to adopt a statement of overriding considerations — essentially saying the benefits of the project would outweigh the impacts.

Class 1 impacts would affect aesthetics and visual resources, primarily through the loss of open space views; biological resources, through increased activity near wildlife habitat; and land use, which includes the impact to visual resources and loss of open space as well as noise and transportation needs.

Other Class 1 impacts include recreation and open space, primarily the loss of recreational and park opportunities; and transportation, through increased traffic, turn movement conflicts and safety issues.

The staff noted that hundreds of conditions are being applied to the project to mitigate at least a portion of the impacts.