You would never know it based on the number of people who tramp on a daily basis across the natural beauty that is Hot Springs Canyon, but that idyllic and mostly untouched expanse of oaks, sycamores, chaparral, and creeks and peaks is private property with a very real potential for development.
Enter the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and its plan to protect all 462 acres of the property in perpetuity. In a press conference this week surrounded by the very neck of woods they hope to save, the local open space-saving outfit officially kicked off its public campaign to raise the final $1.9 million it needs to need to buy the parcel, which includes Montecito Peak, and turn it over to the U.S. Forest Service—whose Los Padres National Forest borders the land to the north and the east—so it can be enjoyed by the public for generations to come. “Our goal is pretty much to keep the property just the way it is,” summed up Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust.
Back in 2009, the property’s current owners, the seven children of the late Lowry McCaslin, approached the Land Trust in hopes of brokering a deal before deciding to put parcel up for sale. At the time, Hot Springs—with its five to six legally developable lots and Montecito Community Plan-approved conditional use permit for a potential 20-acre day use spa—was assessed, according to Feeney, to be worth right around $11 million. The Land Trust, obviously interested in pursuing the purchase, started some preliminary fundraising but, stalled out by a nose-diving economy, reluctantly aborted the mission prematurely. Soon thereafter, the property was officially put up for sale, originally for an asking price of $18 million, and is currently listed on the Kerry Mormann & Associates Web site at $11 million.
According to Feeney, the Land Trust signed an option to buy the land in late March for $8.5 million and has until December 15 of this year to complete the deal. Even better, thanks to a healthy and rapid turnout of lead donors, the Land Trust already has $6.6 million in the bank for the effort. However, the final $1.9 million is anything but a guarantee, says Feeney, because, due to the nature of the property and the fact that it isn’t in the coastal zone, there are virtually zero federal grants available for the effort. “We are hoping for a few more big donors and then it will be up to the grassroots and Internet campaign for trail users and outdoor enthusiasts to help us get it done,” he said.