Neighbors Mad at ‘Party Houses’

County Works to Tweak Special Event Permitting Process

A couple of homes people say have become “party houses” ​— ​one off Figueroa Mountain Road and the other near More Mesa ​— ​have county residents asking for changes to an ordinance that governs special events on private property. A large wedding for reality star Kim Kardashian held in Montecito last year that disrupted traffic and neighbors underscores their argument.

The issue is making its way through the county planning process, and there are a lot of thoughts about what to do with the current ordinance. One property owner, upset residents say, found a loophole that allows him to host several large events ​— ​mostly weddings ​— ​on his property, the Figueroa Mountain Farmhouse. Currently, charitable and noncommercial events don’t need permits, while commercial events, which include renting a property for a wedding, require a conditional-use permit.

But residents say places like Figueroa Mountain Farmhouse have found a way around that rule, renting the space as a residential property and leaving the details of the event, whatever it may be, up to the tenants. And because the enforcement is complaint based, residents are charged with monitoring what is going on. The owner of the Figueroa property, Ken Switzer, disputes the claims, telling the Planning Commission last Wednesday there is no evidence of any rules being broken and that the allegations against his property are “greatly exaggerated.”

In response to concerns, the county is reviewing potential changes to the special-events ordinance. A few options are on the table ​— ​one to allow a certain number of events based on the size of the hosting property. Another is to set a fixed number of events based on zoning, regardless of whether it is a commercial or noncommercial event. Both options could allow more events or attendees with additional permissions. Many landowners and event planners are worried the county could punish them for what they call “a few bad apples.” The matter will go to the Montecito Planning Commission and the Agricultural Advisory Committee before coming back in October to the Planning Commission, which will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.

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