It’s rare that a dispute between two homeowners rises to the attention of the Board of Supervisors, but that’s what Santa Barbara County’s top decision-makers have on their hands next Tuesday, July 10, when they’ll judge whether county planners acted properly in approving unpermitted developments after the fact for a property located in Goleta foothills. The hearing is an appeal of that approval by John Salentine, who claims that, since 1999, his Franklin Ranch Road neighbors, Andy and Jessica Brown, have been grading their land illegally in order to construct a horse arena, hay barn, and stables, complete with lights for riding at night.

In a county so notorious for rigid planning rules, Salentine is surprised that this work — which at one point threatened the pipeline that brings the South Coast all of its water — has been allowed to remain. “This hearing is much bigger than my dissatisfaction with the project and how it impacts me,” said Salentine, whose driveway and views have been hampered by the work. “This hearing is about setting a precedence with how the county deals with violations and corrective action within policy. It is about good planning and proper governing so as to maintain the unique beauty of Santa Barbara.”

County planner Alice McCurdy, however, says that the Browns claimed to be ignorant of the need for certain permits and that the goal, as with any existing violation, is to try and accommodate what’s been done rather than force removal. “We try and always find a current path toward resolution,” said McCurdy. “That’s our job.”

Nonetheless, the denial of Salentine’s appeal only narrowly squeaked through a February hearing at the Planning Commission with a 3-2 vote. “To me, it was a little like an expediency for the staff and certainly for the applicant to just let them leave the dirt where they moved it,” said commissioner Michael Cooney, who voted against the approval because he thought it should be subject to more environmental review. “If there had been no opposition, I would have opposed the project. This is not an appropriate exemption.”

The Browns, meanwhile, say that this is like a “Hatfields and McCoys” issue that goes back to a prior dispute with Salentine, that he doesn’t like horses, that they did obtain the required permits (though some came with mistakes), that they have the support of every other neighbor and agency, and that they’ve paid excessively for work since, including the emergency work to take pressure off the pipeline. “Mr. Salentine is an opportunist, and he’s taking this opportunity to force us to use the property as he wants us to,” said Jessica Brown. “He’s trying his darndest to stop it, but everyone who looks at the project approves it.”

By Tuesday afternoon, the fate of this long-running dispute on Franklin Ranch Road should be finally decided.


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