Monday brought yet another hearing for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Vital Mission Plan, the proposed project to erect more buildings and carry out other assorted improvements on the Mission Canyon property.
Less than two weeks after being approved by the County Planning Commission – a decision officially appealed to the Board of Supervisors last Thursday, October 5 by the opposition group Friends of Mission Canyon – this time the plan went before the County of Santa Barbara’s Historic Landmarks Advisory. The HLAC, which oversees the 23 acres of the garden that are designated as a historic landmark, has been rather hostile to parts of the project in the past, even once stopping the development of a meadow terrace mid-bulldozing. But the latest hearing turned out both well and badly for the plan’s proponents: The HLAC’s objections to the meadow terrace remained strong, but the commission approved the designs of those buildings proposed for the historic zone.
“It was a mixed bag. We were certainly disappointed on their decision about the meadow terrace,” said Garden spokeswoman Nancy Johnson, referring to HLAC’s 5-1 decision that the 2007 development be entirely removed and that the area be restored to the previous design. “But we were certainly pleased that they recognized the artistry of the new buildings, and that they were totally in keeping with the landmark resolution and the historic landscape design concept.”
But Marc Chytilo, the lawyer representing Friends of Mission Canyon, also proved cheery on Tuesday afternoon, sounding as positive and victorious as Johnson. “HLAC did the right thing,” he said. “They disapproved the meadow terrace.” Chytilo also said that the commission tried to remove the controversial pavers that were put upon formerly dirt trails, but that county staff said it was out of the commission’s jurisdiction. The HLAC denied any future use of synthetic pavers in the historic area, calling for compacted soil instead. It did grant use of pavers around new and existing buildings, but only “naturalistic” ones.
HLAC also approved the new entrance, which angered history buff Paulina Conn, who helped write the resolution that made the 23 acres a landmark in 2003. “I was very disappointed that they just rolled over and said the new entrance is fine,” she said, though she was pleased that HLAC asked that the historic entrance be used “on occasion and when practical.”
Conn was also frustrated that HLAC approved the buildings without much debate. “At all of the hearings, I am very disappointed that there is no discussion about the buildings or their uses, or their intensification of use, or, in the case of the Historic Landmarks Commission, whether the use was a historic use,” said Conn.
Just as Friends of Mission Canyon appealed the Planning Commission decision, the Botanic Garden is able to appeal HLAC’s mandate to rip out the meadow terrace. Whether the Garden will in fact appeal remains unclear. “We’re looking at our options right now,” said Johnson.
In any case, HLAC’s input on the Vital Mission Plan is not yet complete; the commission will take action on the plans for fencing and temporary art exhibits at its December 14 hearing.