After hours of discussion and public comment, the Goleta City Council voted Tuesday evening to meet in closed session at a later date to discuss the proposed Haskell’s Landing housing project and the General Plan amendments that may go along with it. The development, which would be located at the western edge of Goleta’s urban limit line where Hollister Avenue and Highway 101 converge, included several design elements-related to building height and creek setbacks-that would require either site-specific exemptions or the proposed General Plan amendments. Initially, Councilmember Margaret Connell suggested that the project be put on hold until the city’s track-three General Plan amendments are dealt with in about six months. However, the council ultimately decided to meet and discuss the project in closed session on April 21 and again in open session on May 5.
Other projects have been submitted for the same site over the years-the 105-unit Aradon project in 1994 and the 119-unit Sandpiper project in 2001 among them. The current plan has been through several revisions on its way to the council, but this version includes 101 units and an array of floor plans arranged in single units, duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes at a density of seven units per acre. City staff, which recommended conceptual approval of the project and its attached General Plan amendments, highlighted building clustering, riparian and wetland restoration work, and affordable housing as benefits of the project. “This is not a land-conversion project; It’s not a Bishop Ranch; It’s not a Shelby Trust,” said Planning and Environmental Services Director Steve Chase.
A large group of supporters offered comment at the meeting, comprised mostly of older Goleta residents who felt that more housing and the $1.5 million the developer would be required to pay for a new fire station in western Goleta are needed. While many of the nearly 30 members of the public spoke in favor of the project, almost all of them focused solely on the project itself, and not upon the proposed General Plan amendments included in its review.
Despite support, a host of cautionary voices were injected into the commentary as well. “Remember that these amendments would affect not just this project, but all projects,” said George Relles, a Goleta resident and contributor to The Independent‘s Goleta Grapevine column. Bob Wignot, chair of the Goleta Design Review Board (DRB), said that he agreed wholeheartedly with Relles’s comments, and that although he felt the DRB had done an adequate job on the project within the scope of its duties, further examination of the proposed General Plan amendments was warranted before any decision was made. Other concerns raised included potential coastal water quality impacts and beach parking displacement for visitors of Haskell’s Beach crowded out of the small lot at Bacara Resort and Spa on high-traffic days.
Countering calls by some councilmembers and members of the public to put the brakes on the project because of General Plan amendment initiation, Chase explained that projects are supposed to bring about changes to a city’s general plan. “It is the norm,” he said. “Projects bring forward General Plan amendments as they attempt to balance a variety of competing interests. What is not the norm is the process we’ve been engaged in of city-initiated General Plan amendments, but we did so in good faith to attempt to reconcile the very things we acknowledged we needed work in.”
Councilmember Ed Easton, adopting his typically deliberate stance toward project and process, wanted to hear more before moving forward. “Staff’s interest is in flexibility-the job of the planner is to get projects approved,” he said. “I’d like to be able to approve this project, but some things need to get resolved before we move forward.”