Santa Barbara County Planning Commission
Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s controversial “Vital Mission Plan”-a proposal that seeks to build 25,000 square feet of new construction-inched closer to reality last week as the County of Santa Barbara Planning Commission voted 4-1 to conceptually approve the project with some amendments. Among other changes, the commission wanted to reassess the proposed use of pavers throughout the property; eliminate the Cavalli trail and related kiosk on the garden’s easternmost ridgeline; deny a proposed increase of large events and attendees, instead restricting the amount to historic maximum levels; require a five-year review of the project; prohibit any lengthy closing of Mission Canyon or Las Canoas roads; establish resting periods between construction phases; and deny the sale of hot foods from the snack window.

“We’re looking at the items they conditioned and seeing where we stand on those,” said garden spokesperson Nancy Johnson, “but overall, we were very pleased with the decision.” Opponents, meanwhile, were livid. “We were really disappointed at the quality of discussion at the Planning Commission,” said attorney and neighbor Marc Chytilo representing Friends of Mission Canyon, which fears the project is cramming an unsafe level of development and activity into the fire-prone canyon. Though his concerns were varied, Chytilo said that, mostly, “The principle we’re worried about is that we’re gonna die in a fire.”

Both North County commissioners were clearly in favor of many aspects of the project, while 1st District Commissioner Michael Cooney and 3rd District Commissioner Marell Brooks both expressed much trepidation with how large and un-garden-like the plans are. But only the 2nd District Commissioner Cecelia Brown cast a dissenting vote. “It’s just simply too much,” said Brown. “It’s not warranted.” The project gets a final Planning Commission review on September 16, after which it will almost certainly be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. (For more, see


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