Solvang planners scrutinize ‘ancient’ land use definitions, propose new zoning district

When it comes to land use, Solvang’s time-honored rules are full of “head-scratchers,” Planning Manager Rafael Castillo told the Planning Commission at its May 6 meeting.

click to enlarge Solvang planners scrutinize ‘ancient’ land use definitions, propose new zoning district
File photo by Jayson Mellom
BE OUR GUEST: Solvang’s Alisal Ranch is currently designated as a “guest ranch,” which the city is considering consolidating into a new zoning district, known as “ag tourist,” in the future.

“The adopted zoning ordinance has remained virtually the same since its adoption in 1990,” Castillo said. “It’s ancient. I hate to say that. … The farm has not been tended when it comes to this stuff.”

To illustrate the need for a revamp of Solvang’s land use definitions, Castillo pulled examples from the city’s existing laws at the meeting. 

“If you want to put up a hospital in a residential zone, our code—as it stands today—lets you do it with a CUP [conditional use permit],” Castillo said. “So, what that tells us, [as] city staff, is I can come in with an application and … pay the piper $4,000 for a CUP. … ‘Here’s your check. Have at it. Go process it.’”

Castillo added that heliports, zoos, and other anomalies for residential areas are equally feasible on paper. 

“We don’t want these types of uses in our primarily residential zones. I don’t think that’s ever been envisioned,” Castillo said. “Sometimes it’s OK to say no. It’s OK to say a residential zone needs to be residential and should not host a polo ground, or a worm farm … or a sanitorium, or a cemetery, or a mausoleum.”

In preparation for Solvang’s next general plan update, expected to be adopted in July, planning staff reviewed the city’s existing code and identified areas for potential amendments to land use definitions and zoning designations. 

Among staff’s recommendations are ways to consolidate some zones that are similar in nature and the proposal to create a new zone, referred to as “ag tourist,” to account for areas suitable for both agricultural and hospitality features.

Staff recommended that the city’s current “guest ranch” designation be consolidated into the ag tourist zone, if implemented. 

During public comment at the Planning Commission’s May 6 meeting, Steve Fort, senior planner at Suzanne Elledge Planning and Permitting, spoke about one of the firm’s clients, Alisal Ranch, which is currently designated as “guest ranch.” 

“We just want to make sure on behalf of Alisal that it definitely does indeed capture not only the hospitality aspect of the land use but also the various agricultural related aspects of the land use—the equestrian uses, husbandry-related, and ag structures that go along with that,” Fort said.

Castillo said the new ag tourist zone, if established, will be formatted with Alisal Ranch’s existing operations in mind. Staff will return to the Planning Commission sometime within the next six months with a formal proposal on the discussed zoning and land use amendments. 

“There’s a ‘guest ranch’ definition in our zoning code today, but it’s not defined,” Castillo said. “So we figured we’d define it. [Ag tourist] will capture the things on there as well as allow for the continuation of grazing, ag culture operations, and understand that there is a hotel component … a lodging component.

“These are just potential amendments,” Castillo added. “Nothing’s been set in stone.” 

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