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Strange Bedfellows Indeed

Environmentalist, Conservatives Find Common Ground


Thursday, September 5, 2013

For the past 40 years, Reeve Woolpert has been so relentless a tree-hugger that he all but sweats splinters. But this Tuesday, Woolpert found himself joining hands with longtime political arch-rivals, conservative agitators Andy Caldwell and Joe Armendariz, to lobby the Board of Supervisors on behalf of a high-end, eight-unit subdivision slated for the land known as the “White Hole” located behind Lillie and Greenwell avenues in Summerland. For Woolpert, it was a “pinch me” moment. “I’ve never been on the same side of any issue as Andy Caldwell,” he told the supervisors with evident amazement. But Woolpert and other Summerland residents sat down with developer and hard-charging polo padrone Pat Nesbitt — of Embassy Suites fame and fortune — and his attorney Steve Amerikaner to hash out a settlement. “The changes are sufficient and acceptable to the community,” he proclaimed. (Caldwell was more enthusiastic, calling the settlement “a darn good deal” that will provide the county with much-needed tax revenues.)

Although the subdivision approval dates back to 1993, Nesbitt found himself in hot water with zoning officials for illegally grading 13 feet off the top of a knoll area, giving what had been a rolling, uneven landscape a uniform flattop. Zoning officials say anything more than two feet constitutes a violation. Nesbitt, famous among environmentalists for his creativity and determination in bending zoning ordinances past the breaking point, has emphatically denied any wrongdoing. But when his plans — which required a lot-line adjustment and map modification — were shot down this spring by the Planning Commission, the man famous for his aggressive style of play on the polo field, where he’s known as the “Maroon Harpoon,” was forced to switch tactics. He agreed to trim down the developed space, increasing the amount of open space by 1.76 acres. In addition, Nesbitt agreed to a native plant restoration program in which a host of nonnative weeds will be eradicated. To help restore some undulation to the hillside, he agreed to build a large berm where the decapitated knoll used to be, and install three massive sandstone boulders.

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