Tree removal in Buellton sparks debate over city policy

Before earning unanimous approval from the Buellton Planning Commission, a proposal for a new winery in town prompted a public dispute between two city officials.

The approved Chanin Wine Company project includes the final development plan for a new commercial building at an undeveloped parcel on the southwest corner of Industrial Way and Highway 246 and related improvements at the site to accommodate the new winery’s operations. 

click to enlarge Tree removal in Buellton sparks debate over city policy
Image courtesy of Chanin Wine Company
SITE FOR SIPS The final development plan for the Chanin Wine Company, set to be located on the southwest corner of Industrial Way and Highway 246, was approved with a 5-0 vote from the Buellton Planning Commission.

One of the improvements approved is the removal of an oak tree on the property, which Buellton City Councilmember Hudson Hornick voiced a concern about during public comment at the Planning Commission’s April 20 meeting.

“I just want everyone to know that I’m here in my personal capacity. If this project is appealed, I will not take part in any council discussion,” Hornick said after introducing himself as the council member for District 1. “That oak tree is a strong love for a lot of people in the community, myself included. It is roughly 100 years old.”

Hornick described the tree, located on the approved winery site at 291 Industrial Way, as a town monument before stepping away from the podium. Planning Commission Chair Patty Hammel then asked Hornick to stay at the mic.

“You are on the City Council, correct?” Hammel asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Hornick replied.

“Even though you’re here as personal business, it is strongly discouraged that you attend and make public comment at these meetings,” Hammel said.

“Are you discouraging me?” Hornick asked.

“I am, and I believe it’s our policy—it’s city policy,” Hammel said.

The two officials then began talking over one another. At one point, Hammel suggested that Hornick consult with Buellton’s city manager and city attorney about city policy.

“I do have a right to be here, and I talked to the city attorney about it,” Hornick said. “Maybe you should too.”

“Yeah, have them both consult with me and you,” Hammel said before inviting the next public speaker to the podium.

Buellton’s City Manager Scott Wolfe told the Sun that the city doesn’t currently have an official policy on the issue.

“The council may want to revisit this in terms of establishing a formal written policy, but we don’t have one like that in the moment,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe also confirmed that Hornick did consult with Buellton City Attorney Greg Murphy about the possibility of speaking during public comment in front of the Buellton Planning Commission ahead of the April 20 meeting.

“As a private citizen, it’s his legal right to do that,” said Wolfe, who explained that Murphy advised Hornick that to speak during public comment wouldn’t be against city policy “as long as you don’t create a conflict of interest.”

To avoid creating a conflict of interest, Hornick was advised to “get up, introduce yourself, tell the commission you’re speaking on behalf of yourself as a private citizen, not as a council member, and then let everyone know that if it winds up in front of City Council, you’ll have to recuse yourself—which he did,” Wolfe said. 

“From a legal perspective, he was just fine,” Wolfe said.

—Caleb Wiseblood

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