A revised project that would bring 129 homes to open areas within Rancho Maria Golf Club in Orcutt will likely go to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors with a recommendation to deny the development.

The Planning Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday, with 5th District Commissioner Dan Blough dissenting, to have staff prepare findings to recommend denial of the Neighborhoods of Willow Creek and Hidden Canyon and bring them back at the April 7 meeting.

During deliberation, 2nd District Commissioner Laura Bridley said she would probably support the project because the Orcutt Community Plan specified housing on the location identified as Key Site 21.

“Maybe the [Orcutt] Community Plan should have never designated this site for residential [development],” Bridley said. “So apparently the Community Plan is wrong. … I’m struggling with why I should not support this.”

But she voted “yes” to have the staff prepare the findings for denial and return with them in a month.

Blough said he would vote for a six-month continuance to allow further revisions to address lingering concerns.

“This is not the right plan,” Blough said. “It doesn’t maximize the value or the aesthetics for both parties.”

Although he said he would not vote to recommend either denial or approval of the project, he voted “no” because he objected to the length of time staff would need to prepare the findings. He wanted them brought back March 10.

Jeff Wilson, commission secretary, said because of the complexity of multiple items supervisors must rule on, it would put undue strain on the staff to prepare the findings in time for the March 10 meeting, and items already scheduled for the March 31 meeting are estimated to take seven hours.

Supervisors will have to vote on two Orcutt Community Plan amendments, the project’s specific plan, vesting tentative tract maps to subdivide two properties, two final development plans, a minor conditional use permit, proposed road names, transmission of a Comprehensive Plan conformity report to various departments, the subsequent environmental impact report and an SEIR revisions letter.

Orcutt Rancho LLC revised its plan to address concerns raised at a November hearing, although opponents said Wednesday it was virtually unchanged and didn’t address those issues.

County planner Sean Stewart said the revisions reduced the project’s footprint and the number of lots from 143 to 129, increased open space, changed the water supply from a new well to Golden State Water service, pulled the public trail and portions of several lots out of an agricultural buffer zone, moved a drainage basin away from a wetland and reduced roads from seven to five, among other things.

Gavin Moores, representing Orcutt Rancho, argued the project will protect habitat that’s not being protected now and does not represent leapfrog development, noting the Orcutt Community Plan allows 3,000 homes, three schools and commercial projects on Key Site 22 directly across Highway 1.

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“The denial of a project that follows the Orcutt Community Plan is dismissive of years of effort the people of Orcutt and the previous Planning Commission members and the Board of Supervisors agreed to, all of whom participated in the Orcutt Community Plan to document the vision as to how growth — not sprawl — would be accomplished over the years,” Moores said.

Project representative Frances Romero said the Orcutt Community Plan allows 135 units where the developers are proposing 129 and called the open space increase from 51% to 74% “really quite impressive.”

But five representatives of Rancho Maria Golf Club rejected the developers’ claims and said the Orcutt Community Plan requires a specific plan for the entire Key Site 21, not just the portion proposed for development.

“It is virtually the same as the old plan minus 14 lots in the interior of the project,” Cheryl O’Keefe Severn said. “The same problems remain, including agricultural impacts, habitat and species impacts, circulation, safety, density, golf course impacts and others.”

John Storrer, a professional biologist, said the project would have significant and permanent impacts on the California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog and that a detailed study of their habitat is required by state and federal wildlife agencies.

“This is not a simple matter of building a baseball diamond in a cornfield,” Storrer said.

Nine members of the public, including owners of agricultural land abutting the site, spoke against the project; no one spoke in favor.

Commissioner John Parke, whose 3rd District includes the site, said the concerns raised in November, like roads across the wetlands and three entrances on Highway 1, still remain, and he questioned the adequacy of mitigations for lost wetland and grassland areas.

“I cannot in good conscience find that these biological resource issues have been adequately dealt with with this project,” he said. “I can’t make the findings necessary to support this project.”

Chairman and 4th District Commissioner Larry Ferini cited conflicts the project will have with adjacent agricultural operations he said are also a biological resource.

“I think the incompatibilities stack up really high,” he said.

First District Commissioner Michael Cooney said he was very uncomfortable with the notion that an Orcutt Community Plan amendment is required for the project to move forward and that too many issues are unresolved, including conflicts with the golf course.

“Why should we approve a project that so dramatically will affect the golf course play?” he asked.

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