Ken Hunter, owner of La Pur-sima Golf Course, was hoping the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors would on Tuesday begin the process of changing his establishment’s land use designation so he could one day build a resort. And indeed, the fact that the supervisors seemed to like the resort’s plans boded well.
However, to switch the zoning from agricultural to resort/visitor serving commercial would require an amendment to the county’s General Plan. And because such a change could have widespread effects on agricultural land throughout the county, a majority of the Board of Supervisors ultimately voted against pursuing it.
The move would’ve resulted in an urban designation in a highly rural area, and county staff told the board it would be inconsistent with several policies intended to foster the success of the county’s urban agricultural community. The agricultural community clearly was concerned that if others with ag land saw the door opened to make a switch to build, they would be apt to do it. “We cannot afford to make changes in our General Plan that would result in the loss of valuable and viable agricultural land,” said Deborah Braskett, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network. Additionally, last year the Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) voted 7-1 in favor of holding off on the La Pur-sima project or any other rezone from ag to resort/visitor serving commercial until the county comprehensively reviewed the issue.
On the other side of the argument sat many Lompoc area residents who were excited about a revenue- and job-generator moving into the area. “It’s exactly the type of project we need and it’s exactly the time we need it,” one told the board. Dennis Anderson, president of the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce, pointed out the land in question is not even prime farming ground-in fact, no portion of the parcel is prime ag or prime soil. “It’s a very, very important economic development project for the whole county,” he said.
The 60,000-square-foot resort would’ve accommodated 80 rooms, a restaurant, spa, and 85 one- or two-bedroom casitas comprising a mix of timeshares and residential units. The buildings would line the outer perimeter of the golf course. Though La Pur-sima Golf Course is regularly rated as one of California’s best public courses, green fees weren’t cutting it for Hunter, leading him to look for other ways to keep the course viable. After considering the project on several occasions, the Planning Commission decided that the project-dependent on a policy decision to move forward-should be heard by the board.
And the board sent Hunter and his team back to brainstorming, voting not to initiate a General Plan amendment process that would have eventually led to the board deciding on the issue. Hunter and his attorney tried to quell concerns that any move toward an amendment would set a precedent and claimed that the board would still retain much oversight on similar projects. “To turn this project aside is to send a message that the board is more attuned with the fear of the ill-defined specter of a precedent of a worthy project regardless of its merits and benefits to the county as a whole,” Hunter said.
But his speech didn’t sway 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who, while calling the project “pretty,” said she failed to find a required significant public benefit to it. The 1st District’s Salud Carbajal worried about a chain reaction of land rezoning in this project’s wake, while the 3rd’s Doreen Farr maintained that protecting ag land was important. In the end, the support of only 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno and Joni Grey-in whose 4th District the land lies-meant the resort would not move forward in its current form.