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Building Naples’s Neighbor

County Planning Commission Hears Controversial Gaviota Development Proposal


Thursday, March 28, 2013

For more than half a decade, plans have been quietly cooking to build out the ocean-side bluffs east of Naples on the Gaviota Coast. In a special hearing last Wednesday, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission got its first crack at the Paradiso de Mare Ocean and Inland Estates project, a proposal to put two luxury homes and accompanying outbuildings and guest houses on the approximately 140 acres that were once infamously slated to be turned into a golf course in the early 1990s by ARCO Oil and Gas. Though not nearly as buzzworthy as the demonized development dreams slated for the property immediately to its west, the comparatively modest Paradiso proposal proved to be anything but popular among public speakers and, albeit to a lesser degree, a majority of the planning commissioners.

The project looks to build a 5,800-square-foot home plus more than 2,800 square feet of garage and guest residence space in a nearly two-acre building envelope on the mesa above the beach popularly known as Seals. Also on the table is a 7,300-square-foot home with a 1,800-square-foot garage and a 800-square-foot guest house on a 2.5-acre building envelope inland from the bluff-side house but still ocean-side of Highway 101. Roughly 106 acres of land would remain open space, according to the proposal, 17 acres would become citrus orchards, and four acres would be donated to the county for possible public parking and access trails near Eagle Canyon.

All told, according to a final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) released late last month, the project would create two Class I impacts (i.e., immitigable) in terms of aesthetics and with respect to cultural resources as the area is loaded with Chumash archeological sites, as well as a list of Class II impacts (i.e., mitigable if certain protective measures are taken by the project applicant) such as habitat loss for the white-tailed kite, degradation of riparian corridors, and exposure to potentially hazardous materials stemming from the land’s historical use as an oil drilling site. Further, to hear many of the meeting’s public speakers tell it, the project’s EIR is itself flawed as it doesn’t adequately consider potential future growth, the possibility for hazardous fumes from the old oil wells on the site, and the fact that the “dedication” of land for public trails doesn’t actually guarantee that the county will ever be able implement them.

The county planning commissioners, acting at the advice of staff, opted to continue the matter until next month to allow staff more time to hammer out details on the requirements that will be imposed on the plan should it eventually be approved. As Commissioner Michael Cooney explained, “I have the impression today that there are several crucial issues still in progress that need to be resolved before we can move forward.” The discussion will continue April 10.