Issue: Land Use / Development

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Santa Ynez Valley Alliance Announces Release of Valley Blueprint Progress Report

The Santa Ynez Valley Alliance has announced the release of The Valley Blueprint: A Progress Report. The report is a review of the original Valley Blueprint published a little over ten years ago.

“Beginning in 1998, 40 residents of the Santa Ynez Valley spent more than 5,000 hours, meeting for almost two years in an attempt to answer the following question: “What will the Santa Ynez Valley be like in 2020?” stated Mark Oliver, President of the Valley Alliance. “Ten years later, the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance deemed it timely to evaluate the goals put forth in the Blueprint.”

The original Valley Blueprint was borne out of a desire to protect the unique qualities and characteristics of the Santa Ynez Valley region while maintaining a sound base for economic prosperity and the sustainability of the Valley’s quality of life. The document filled an important need at a critical time: to complete a community visioning process prior to the creation of the first Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan (SYVCP). Using the Valley Blueprint as a starting place, the SYVCP was adopted in October 2009.

“The Valley Blueprint: A Progress Report provides a thorough examination of the accomplishments that have been made since the original Blueprint was published,” stated County Supervisor Doreen Farr. “Additionally, the Progress Report brings to the public’s attention those issues which have surfaced during the last ten years, making it very timely.”

The Progress Report specifically assesses numerous goals that have been achieved, and many others that have yet to be addressed. But the Progress Report is also an effort to revitalize the community in assessing the Valley’s future, given the many challenges that have emerged since the original Blueprint was completed.

“It is so encouraging to have this Report that reminds us of all the positive progress that has been made in the Valley during the past decade,” stated John Evarts, one of the original 40 Valley Blueprint Volunteers. “However, perhaps more importantly, the Emerging Issues Section of the document points out the areas that need our attention during the next decade.”

“It is our hope that this interim assessment will serve the community in continuing to ensure that the goals and vision stated in the VB can be reached where needed and feasible,” concluded Mark Oliver.

Download the complete report here.

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Comments on Draft Winery Ordinance

The Valley Alliance has reviewed and participated in the ongoing regulatory updates to the SB County Winery Ordinance update to ensure “that new regulations address community concerns while balancing environmental, economic and agricultural needs”.

We are satisfied that our concerns have been addressed in the Draft Ordinance Language, as proposed by numerous Santa Ynez Valley neighborhood groups and individuals. While we feel all of the changes are needed, we want to stress a few of the issues addressed in the document that may have been the most egregious examples of over reach by the County and the wine industry:

1. The inadequacy of rural roads for alcohol serving activity. We favor a development standard that is far-thinking and therefore suggest that under #4/Access, item c, 1 through 7, be adopted along with item d, an overlay map of the roads listed under d. We want to be sure this important issue has a solution that will survive beyond the foreseeable future. This is an important issue of safety.

2. Lack of enforcement of the current ordinance has been terrible for the SY Valley . Enforcement must be written into the ordinance in order to be effective.

3. We recommend a minimum parcel size of 40 acres for wine tasting and events. The impact on neighbors are too many and too great on smaller parcels.

4. The original ordinance was based on the principal of making permitting for wineries specific to the wine industry needs as well as the long term comfort and convenience of their neighbors. We feel requiring a CUP for a Tier A winery is inappropriate. A Land Use Permit (LUP) can be revoked as a consequence for not adhering to the Tier A conditions and we feel that is adequate at this level.

5. The draft allows too many events with too many people. There should be no events allowed at Tier A wineries, and two events at Tier B wineries.

6. Noise abatement. The threshold should be set at no more than 50dB at the property line.

7. Hours of operation. Events and tastings should end no later than 5:00 pm.

Comment letter on Rancho La Laguna development

John Zorovich, Senior Planner
Development Review, North Division
County of Santa Barbara
624 W Foster Road, Ste. C
Santa Maria, CA 93455

RE: Notice of Preparation for Rancho La Laguna Subdivision; Project # 06RM-00000-00002

Dear Mr. Zorovich:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the proposed subdivision of Rancho La Laguna into 13 lots ranging from 160 to 604 acres in size. As you know, the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance submitted comments on the proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration for this project in November 2010 (copy attached and incorporated).

The Valley Alliance is pleased that the County ultimately decided to require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for this project as we had, and still have, major concerns about the adverse impacts that this project will have on several key issues areas, as described in our letter, and discussed in the Notice of Preparation.

Agricultural Resources: Protection of agricultural lands is of utmost importance in the Santa Ynez Valley. We support the scoping items identified in the NOP, but believe that water availability should be included in the assessment of existing and future potential physical constraints (3rd bullet on page 7). Of particular importance to address is the long-term sustainability of an agricultural scenario that converts grazing land into more intensive row crops, which greater water needs and which may be more affected by crop prices. The agricultural viability of the property is perhaps the most important factor in ensuring the protection of long-term, agriculture on this property.

Biological Resources: The Valley Alliance agrees with the concerns raised with regards to the impacts to native grasslands and wetlands, and to sensitive and/or special status species, including the California Tiger Salamander and the California red-legged frog, among others and support the scoping requirements laid out in the NOP. The fragmentation of biological resources, as well as the conflicts between increased agriculture and the biological resources on the property must be identified.

Geologic Resources: We disagreed with the MND in 2010 about the significant impacts that the substantial grading that will occur if this proposed project is approved. As we stated in our November 18, 2010 letter, “One driveway along will require the creation of seven switchbacks, 12 foot high retaining wall and 24,000 cubic yards of grading. This is excessive. We strongly support the recommendation in the NOP to assess the soil erosion and sedimentation impacts (both short and potentially long term) associated with this excessive grading.

Land Use: The NOP recommends no further environmental analysis is needed in this area, however, the Alliance believes that the issues relating to the protection of agricultural resources, especially cumulatively, are intrinsically tied to land use. The critical issue here is the cumulative impact if large portions of the Santa Ynez Valley are converted to smaller and smaller parcels. Efforts were made decades ago to increase minimum parcel sizes, to ward off the movement towards subdivision of large agricultural ranches into rural ranchette developments. This project represents the reversal of that direction and, therefore, requires that the land use implications of subdividing this large agricultural property be examined. The fact that there have been no recorded subdivisions within a one-mile radius of the subject property since 1990 is irrelevant. It is the possibility of similar subdivisions in the future that creates the impact, and not just within one mile of the property, but all over the rural areas of the Santa Ynez Valley, of which there are plenty.

Cumulative Impacts: The lack of any meaningful analysis of cumulative impacts was perhaps the most compelling reason to require an EIR on this project. With the EIR, we expect this section to fully analyze all cumulative impacts in detail, as is indicated in the NOP.

Alternatives: The Alliance will be looking for a variety of alternatives in the EIR, such as a reduced level of development, as well as a variety of creative options to preserve the agricultural viability of this property, such as the imposition of agricultural easements, etc. The EIR should discuss the no project alternative and should also identify the most environmentally superior alternative.

The Santa Ynez Valley Alliance hopes that these scoping comments are helpful and we look forward to review the Draft EIR when it is released for public comment.

The mission of the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance is to work collaboratively with individuals, groups and governments to protect the rural character of the Santa Ynez Valley and support good stewardship of natural and agricultural resources through education, comprehensive planning and public participation.
Again, thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Sincerely,

Mark Oliver, President

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SYVA Urges Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to Oppose Latest Mattei’s Tavern Development Plan

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission will be considering the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern development project at its hearing of Dec. 19th. Although Mattei’s Tavern itself is now a County Historic Landmark, there remain many reasons why the development project should not be approved as currently proposed. The Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) identifies some of these reasons and includes many concerns expressed by members of the public regarding safety, access, traffic, noise, visual impacts, groundwater contamination, and historic preservation.

[NOTE: Reader's may read the entire text of the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance's 15-page December 11, 2012 brief to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission by clicking here.]

[Link to simulated photos of proposed project, prepared by Ron Stevens Interacta, Inc., 28 March 2011; 6.8 Mb]

Many commenters pointed out the danger of the Hwy. 154 / Grand Ave. intersection and the hazard of adding more traffic to the location of so many accidents and fatalities. The intersection has an accident rate twice the statewide average for similar intersections. The conflicting turning movements of the adjacent Grand Ave. / Railway Ave intersection, which will undoubtedly be used by much of the project’s traffic, multiplies the problem. The project proposes no improvements or changes to either intersection.

Many residents use the Hwy. 154 / Calkins Rd. connection to Railway Ave. to cross, exit or enter the state expressway due to better sight distance. The project now proposes to leave this access point open, but driving through the project’s parking lot on an easement smaller than the existing road will undoubtedly discourage and impede the public’s use of it.

Caltrans has expressed “concern about this proposed project and the SR 154 / Calkins intersection. It is Caltrans’ perspective that if the intersection is to remain open, the project should be conditioned to improve the intersection by adding left turn channelization or two-way left turn striping…” Despite a higher than average accident rate and Caltrans’ concerns, no improvements are proposed.

Caltrans has also questioned the allocation of traffic and the threshold of significance (used to evaluate impacts) for the state highway, used in the project’s traffic study.

The project proposes to install an onsite wastewater treatment system in a Special Problems Area although the County is proposing a community wastewater treatment system for Los Olivos. The project proposes to connect to the community system if and when it is constructed.

Residents have pointed out that the projected wastewater flows the system is based on, are unrealistically low. The average flow is estimated to be only 19% more than the existing restaurant and cottages, even though the new restaurant will be expanded and a 64-unit hotel and spa developed. Despite the lowballed flow rate the proposed system will exceed the recommended nitrogen discharge flow rate established by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Basin Plan.

The project proposes to triple the development on site, for a total of almost 50,000 sq. ft. and add twenty-one new structures. The project’s location alongside a scenic highway and at a gateway to Los Olivos, supports the FEIR’s determination that the visual impacts of the project will be dramatic.

“The project’s contribution to the transformation of the (community’s) visual character is considerable. Therefore, the cumulative impacts associated with visual effects on visual character would be significant and unavoidable (Class I).”

The FEIR concludes that a reduced density version of the project would have fewer impacts and would be the “Environmentally Superior Alternative.”

The project assumes the abandonment of 11/2 acres of public right of way (most on Railway Ave.) that will be dedicated to project parking, access, construction and wastewater disposal. Considering Los Olivos’s ever-expanding parking problem, increasing traffic, and the hazard posed by the limited number of safe Hwy. 154 access points, it would be foolhardy for the County to abandon all of Railway Avenue.

Citizens who believe public safety and public health should be considered before private profits, should attend the Planning Commission hearing or write the commissioners. E-mail can be directed to SB County Planning Commission, c/o David Villalobos – dvillalo@co.santa-barbara.ca.us