The owners of a 3,500-acre estate known as Las Varas Ranch lost this week the glimmer of hope they once had of readjusting lot lines to potentially allow for a few new oceanfront homes on the Gaviota Coast. The county supervisors voted 3-2 to deny the bulk of the project, following recommendations from the Planning Commission that found mitigation of its impacts was inadequate.

The project ​— ​the brainchild of the late Tim Doheny ​— ​would redraw the land from nine lots into seven, moving one of its existing lots to the coastal side, and create the possibility of a few more houses on the bluffs just east of El Capitan Ranch. It would also dedicate three coastal trails plus a parking lot for public use.

But a number of conservationists were unsatisfied and filed into the county Board of Supervisors hearing room Tuesday, sporting colorful signs that read “Save Gaviota.” “The real implication of the project is that it’s shifting development from inland to coastal,” said Gaviota Coast Conservancy attorney Ana Citrin, adding that maintaining agriculture operations on the land is a major concern.

Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the area, pointedly asked Doheny family attorney Susan Petrovich why the applicant proposed the project ​— ​lauded by supporters as a boon for public benefit ​— ​in the first place. Petrovich said Tim Doheny intended to preserve the land for the long term, as a number of biological benefits are included. Currently, Petrovich said, each of the parcels could be sold as is. But Citrin argued in an interview that approval of the project would make it easier to sell lot by lot.

On Tuesday, a few other speakers ​— ​as well as supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam ​— ​said the applicants bent over backward to accommodate the environmentalists, and they reasoned nothing would ever be good enough for the Gaviota Coast. Addressing that school of thought, one enviro said, “In a way, you are right.” Lavagnino and Adam also stressed property rights and warned about future litigation from the Doheny family as a result of the decision.


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