'Noleta' residents fight big projects
By BARNEY McMANIGAL
Proposals for housing on at least four key sites trigger growth concerns
After getting the green light on a plan to control growth in the eastern Goleta Valley, residents say the battle to fight high-density development in the area is just beginning and could lead to a "citizens' revolt."
While the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors earlier this week agreed to spend $43,000 to kick off a new growth outline for the unincorporated area, neighborhood groups like the Coalition for Sensible Planning warn that it may not stop large-scale housing projects on at least four key sites.
The county is considering proposals to build hundreds of homes on parcels near Calle Real and Turnpike Road; Patterson Avenue and Cathedral Oaks; Turnpike and Hollister Avenue; and Cathedral Oaks near Highway 154, neighbors say.
Although still in preliminary phases, those proposals have angered residents concerned about traffic and congestion, and the quality of life in 30,000-person suburb sometimes called "Noleta."
Some plans call for up to 20 homes per acre -- the kind of density increases that helped forge the 2,000-supporter coalition in early 2004.
Threatening to recall 2nd District Supervisor Susan Rose last year, group members lobbied hard to begin an update to their community plan, the area's map for growth, which they say fell out of date when Goleta incorporated in 2002.
But as the county moves to increase its stock of housing -- especially affordable housing -- coalition members are beginning to question the olive branch given by supervisors Tuesday.
"If the county seeks to rezone these properties outside of the community plan process, then there is nothing left to plan for and the process is a sham," said coalition President Gary Earle.
Building large-scale housing on these parcels would typically require significant rezoning. Some of the properties, such as the 22.86 acres near San Marcos High School known as the Tatum property, are zoned for 3½ homes per acre.
In a recent opinion article, Mr. Earle said a proposal to "up-zone" the Tatum property could create "a small city unto itself," with more than 400 homes.
Other properties, such as a 26-acre Christmas tree farm near Patterson and Cathedral Oaks owned by the Cavaletto family, are zoned for agriculture.
Residents have said they expected the "visioning" process, which kicks off the growth update, to protect their area from a wide-scale rezoning.
Not so, county staffers say.
Planning and Development Deputy Director Lisa Plowman said officials expect the visioning group to come up with specific recommendations for housing.
"The goal is to get this group to identify sites that they're comfortable with," said Ms. Plowman, who heads the Comprehensive Planning Division.
If residents fail to come up with adequate housing sites, the Board of Supervisors could push through a rezone if it were in the county's best interest, Ms. Plowman said.
"It will ultimately be up to the decision-makers how many sites from Goleta will be rezoned," she said.
Planners often describe unincorporated Goleta as ripe for new housing because it contains the largest number of undeveloped parcels on the South Coast.
Ms. Plowman explained that the area may need to accept more growth for two reasons -- a state mandate for about 1,200 new homes on the South Coast, and the region's affordable housing shortage.
She did not say how many homes the eastern Goleta Valley would have to take.
Updating a community plan can take several years. Meanwhile, the county's state-mandated "housing element" is close to two years late and median South Coast home prices topped $1.3 million in August.
"We won't be able to delay rezoning those sites through that (community plan) process," Ms. Plowman said.
Coalition members seemed stunned when told of Ms. Plowman's comments.
They described a "citizens' revolt" as their only option.
Members have asked officials to spread any new housing across the county as a whole. Mr. Earle has also called for better long-term planning in the future, and perhaps even installing a separate planning commission and board of architectural review for the neighborhood, as seen in Montecito.
"Montecito has protected their community, not only for today, but for decades to come," Mr. Earle said. "Why would we not want that?"
As the potential showdown builds in Noleta, county budget hawks are shaking their heads.
"Every single community in this county thinks they're something special and that they deserve unique treatment and preferences," said Andy Caldwell of the Coalition for Labor, Agriculture and Business. "To what degree the county caters to it only makes it worse."