Construction on a new terrace exhibit in the Meadow area of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has been halted after uproar from the public as well as members of Santa Barbara County’s Historic Landmark Advisory Commission led to the county rescinding the Garden’s permit.
“When the Garden contacted staff regarding the proposed project, they did not inform staff of their previous dialogue with community groups, the HLAC and the public,” wrote county deputy director of planning and development Dave Ward in a letter dated yesterday and addressed to Garden President Edward Schneider. “Staff has become aware, however, through community e-mails, phone calls and letters, as well as through public testimony and commissioner statements at the Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission on Monday, August 13, 2007, that the project is indeed the subject of substantial public controversy. Moreover, staff has discovered from these sources that the treatment of the Meadow and its surrounds were the topic of substantial public controversy years ago.”
The project initially received the green light from the Planning and Development Department in mid-July, despite the fact the Meadow and other various components of the Garden are considered historically important and projects in those areas must be reviewed by HLAC. According to a 2003 Board of Supervisors resolution, no changes to the Garden could be made that “substantially deviate from the foregoing historic landscape design concept or historic use of the landmark property unless express consent in writing is first had and obtained” from HLAC. However, in a July 18 letter to Schneider, Ward concluded that the project falls under the category of “continued operation and maintenance” to garden and therefore didn’t need HLAC approval. The project was set to last three to five weeks, and includes the installation of a 4,025-square-foot area featuring a three-tiered exhibit space with a flagstone floor.
Many people, including some on the HLAC, didn’t said they did not hear about the construction until they were alerted by others who saw it taking place, which led to the matter being placed on the August 13 HLAC agenda, where the public testimony and comments from the commission, along with phone calls and emails, led to county staff putting a halt to the project.
Schneider didn’t return calls for comment, nor did Nancy Johnson, a spokesperson for the Garden. Ward also didn’t immediately return calls as of Friday afternoon.
According to Ward’s letter, the Garden would either have to go before the Planning Commission with a new application, or the project could be included in an expansion project at the Garden, known as the Vital Mission Plan, which is currently under review by the county.
There will be a special August 22 meeting at the Botanic Garden to discuss the project.