Tuesday, April 13, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 6

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 31st, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 5 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 5

County to discuss 119-home development proposed for Orcutt

By Kasey Bubnash

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is slated to consider a 119-home development proposed for the eastern edge of Orcutt this month, but neighbors have yet to come to an agreement with the developer over several key details of the project. 

Project applicant Ernie Mansi, CEO of Oxnard-based real estate development firm Aldersgate Investment, hopes to build 119 single-family homes on around 9 acres of a large plot of land that sits just south of the Sunny Hills Mobile Home Park in Orcutt. Much of the land, known as Key Site 3, would be dedicated to the county as permanent open space, where all community members could enjoy a multi-use trail system, natural open spaces, and an overlook. 

A map shows the 119 single-family homes propsed for Key Site 3, along with acres and acres of open space.

But Orcutt residents living near Key Site 3 say the project would significantly increase vehicle traffic and congestion, putting undue usage on a privately maintained road, Chancellor Street, that would be used as one of the development’s two access roads. 

Bill Brown (not the Santa Barbara County sheriff) moved into a house in September 2020 in a small gated community that neighbors Key Site 3. Brown also accesses his house via Chancellor Street, a road that he and a handful of his neighbors chip in to maintain. Although Brown said he’s an avid supporter of individual property rights, he doesn’t want to have to pay to maintain a road that’s used for hundreds of trips every day. 

“The road isn’t built to withstand that,” Brown said.  

The developer offered to pay for the road’s upkeep himself, but Brown said he and his neighbors worry that such an agreement wouldn’t last forever, or that the quality of the road would decline. He’d prefer to see the county take over Chancellor Street and make it a better, public road. 

“But again,” Brown said, “we kind of moved here and we put a gate on that road because we like our privacy.” 

That sense of privacy and seclusion would already be lost with the construction of 119 new homes, Brown said, but even more are likely to be built. Key Site 3 is also home to 8 acres of land zoned as “multi-family residential Orcutt” (MR-O), which allows for more housing at a higher density. Some Orcutt residents are rallying opposition to the project in hopes that the county puts a cap on the number of units that can be built on Key Site 3. 

“It’s just I think the plan needs to be reconsidered,” Brown said. “Look at the surrounding densities and somewhat match that. It would stick out like a sore thumb.” 

Key Site 3 is one of several “key sites” identified in the Orcutt Community Plan as prime areas for development needed to meet the full spectrum of housing and other facility needs, according to Santa Barbara County Planner Shannon Reese. 

In 2009, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the Housing Element Focused Rezone Program, Reese said, allowing the county to rezone a portion of Key Site 3 as MR-O land and increasing its housing capacity. Through the Rezone Program, 160 high-density multi-family units can be constructed “by right” on the MR-O-zoned acres of Key Site 3, which is currently owned by the same developer who owns the rest of Key Site 3. 

While no residential units are proposed on the MR-O portion of Key Site 3 as a part of the current proposal, it’s likely that those units will eventually be constructed too. Maps and proposals for the Key Site 3 project on Aldersgate’s website include both 119 single-family homes and 160 multi-family units. 

Still, Reese said that even with the additional 160 units, roughly 100 acres of Key Site 3 would be dedicated to the county as public open space, including the upper mesa bluff area, Orcutt Creek, private parks and trails, public multi-use trails, landscaped basins, and areas of natural and restored habitat on hillsides and along creeks. The proposed trail system, Reese said, includes a public multi-use trail that would follow the primary access road to Key Site 2 to the north and connect to a future trail on Key Sites 1 and 2.

In September 2020, the Board of Supervisors executed a purchase agreement for the 96-acre property immediately south of Key Site 3 for public open space use, recreational purposes, and a hiking trail, land that would be accessible via trails on Key Site 3. 

“From a perspective of public open space amenities,” Reese wrote in a statement to the Sun, “Key Site 3 is a major component in connecting trails in the Rice Ranch development, the Woodmere trail, and the parcel recently acquired by the county.” 

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the Key Site 3 proposal at a meeting on April 7, but Reese said the hearing has been continued twice in an effort to give neighbors a chance to discuss their concerns with the developer.

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