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Rancho Maria Golf Club owners ask that 143-home project be denied

Rancho Maria Golf Club owners ask that 143-home project be denied

From the What you need to know: This week's top headlines series
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Rancho Maria Entrance

Owners of the Rancho Maria Golf Club are opposed to a 143-home development proposed for land surrounded by and adjacent to the golf course based on loss of habitat for protected species, wildfire danger, traffic safety, lack of affordable housing and other issues. The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission held a hearing on the project Wednesday and continued it until Nov. 12.

A hearing on a proposed 143-home development within and adjacent to Rancho Maria Golf Club was continued Wednesday by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, but one commissioner said it will likely take two more meetings before a decision can be reached on the project.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to continue the hearing to a special meeting Nov. 12, when the entire day will be devoted to the project known as the Neighborhoods of Willow Creek and Hidden Canyon proposed for the parcel identified as Key Site 21 in the Orcutt Community Plan.

“I don’t anticipate us coming to a decision on that Nov. 12 date,” said 5th District Commissioner Dan Blough. “I think it’s going to take another meeting beyond that.”

Third District Commissioner John Parke said he could see the Rancho Maria owners’ side of the issue, but he also didn’t like saying “no” to someone who has spent years and large sums of money on planning a project.

“I’d really like to see both sides work it out” before the Nov. 12 meeting, Parke said.

The commission won’t make the final decision on the multiple steps required to give the project the green light but will make a recommendation on those actions to the County Board of Supervisors.

Located on the southwest side of Highway 1 about half a mile northwest of the Solomon Road intersection, the 340-acre Key Site 21 consists of seven parcels — the nearly 130-acre Rancho Maria Golf Club, three parcels totaling 189.2 acres owned by Orcutt Rancho LLC and three other parcels totaling 22.9 acres under two other owners.

Orcutt Rancho proposes to leave a 12.5-acre parcel in open space and develop 89 home lots on one 70-acre parcel to be known as Willow Creek and 54 home lots on the remaining 106.7-acre parcel to be known as Hidden Canyon.

As proposed, Willow Creek would be surrounded by Rancho Maria holes 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 18, with access from Highway 1 located at the northwest corner of the site and a secondary gated exit into Rancho Maria parking lot.

Hidden Canyon would be located southeast of Rancho Maria holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, with access from Highway 1 at two locations near the southeast corner of the site.

After developer representative Frances Romero and others presented the project to the commission, Cheryl Severn O’Keefe, one of four owners of Rancho Maria Golf Club, assailed the project as poorly designed, said the supplemental environmental impact report was inadequate and claimed the owners were never invited to be a part of the design and planning process.

Key Site 21 overview map

A map taken from a Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department staff report on the proposed Neighborhoods of Willow Creek and Hidden Canyon show how the two residential developments would fit in with Rancho Maria Golf Club on the property designated Key Site 21.

She asked the commission to recommend supervisors deny the project and require a specific plan for the entire Key Site 21, instead of separate specific plans for the two neighborhoods, and a full EIR for the entire site.

“We are asking you to send this project back to the drawing board,” O’Keefe said.

Speaking for Rancho Maria, Laurel Perez said the project has no onsite affordable housing, would add homes outside the urban core, will create unsafe traffic conditions and will displace wildlife habitat, including a pond and wetlands.

“This wetlands is not a small thing … it is about 2 ½ acres in size and is filled with mature willows and other wetland species,” Perez said, noting the pond and wetlands are home to the tiger salamander, red-legged frog and Southwestern pond turtle.

She also said the project will remove eucalyptus trees where monarch butterflies roost.

Henry Weinstock, water attorney for Rancho Maria, said the developers plan to sink two new wells into a groundwater basin in an area where the level has declined 30 to 75 feet in the last 18 years but they have not shown the wells won’t contribute to further overdraft.

He said the settlement in the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin litigation prohibits landowners from assigning their water rights to a mutual water company and that the developers must provide supplemental water.

Although the developer was given an opportunity to present a rebuttal of the opposition’s claims, Romero declined because applicant’s experts had left the meeting, and she asked to present the rebuttal at the start of the Nov. 12 meeting.

Commissioners said they have a lot of questions about the project, but rather than try to formulate them as time ran out on the meeting, they agreed to email them to the Planning and Development Department staff, which can provide answers at the continued meeting.

The commission expects to reopen public comment after receiving those answers and hearing the developer’s rebuttal.

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