Plans to build a new fire station and training center on the eastern edge of Montecito were sent unceremoniously back to the drawing board by Judge Thomas Anderle, who ruled the environmental analysis provided by the fire district was woefully insufficient. Anderle found that the report failed to take into consideration the semi-rural quality of the neighborhood, but rather looked at the impacts of the new firehouse on what the neighborhood could look like if it were built out according to relatively new zoning regulations, or what Anderele dismissed as “hypothetical future conditions.” He added, “This resulted in an illusory comparison that could only mislead the public at to the reality of the public’s impacts.”
The new firehouse generated opposition by some of Montecito’s more prominent citizens, who formed something called the Montecito Agricultural Foundation and hired attorney Marc Chytilo and consultant Mary Rose to stop it. They opposed the firehouse in part because of its size — two-and-a-half acres — and its expected intensity of use. In addition, the proximity of the new fire station would effectively hasten the development — under a point system guiding development in Montecito — of up to 93 residential parcels on land now used for lemon orchards.
The fire district became a focal point of community discontent in last November’s election when district critics won a majority of the board seats, campaigning against runaway spending and undue restrictions imposed on fire victims trying to rebuild. It’s unclear how the new board, more skeptical about the need for the new firehouse, will proceed. It is currently undertaking a district-wide survey to determine what levels of fire coverage are needed and where.