The Bishop Ranch plan: 1,195 units
Developer’s application to city seeks to change land-use designation from ag to mixed-use
By Jim Logan
Voice Managing Editor
The prospective developer of Bishop Ranch has filed an application with the city of Goleta that proposes nearly 1,200 residential units on its 240 acres. The 11-page application seeks a General Plan amendment to change the property’s land-use designation from agriculture to “Mixed-Use-Bishop Ranch.”
The request, received by the city April 16, argues chiefly that the property’s ag land designation is flawed and inappropriate, and that developing it would help the city meet its housing needs.
Among the proposals for the property, which the application says would not be completed for 10-13 years:
• “approximately 1,195 residential units” consisting of high-density rentals, multi-family townhomes and condos, detached single-family homes, and “age-restricted” units for seniors;
• up to 240 units of affordable housing;
• seven acres of commercial development (about 90,000 square feet);
• eighty acres of parkland (63 acres passive, 17 acres active).
The application kicks off a series of steps by the city. The first is a formal public hearing of the City Council to determine if the city will “initiate” the application or reject it. Initiation would mean conducting environmental and General Plan consistency analyses.
“Rejection means just that — dead in the water, do not pass go,” Steve Chase, Goleta’s director of planning and environmental services, said in an e-mail. He expects staff to prepare a report and submit its recommendation to the City Council in 45 to 60 days.
The application anticipates it would take two years or more to process the General Plan amendment and complete the related California Environmental Quality Act review.
Friends in high places
Its prospects before the current City Council would appear to be favorable.
“A fair statement,” said J. Michael Nolte, general manager of Bishop Ranch 2000 LLC, the company that seeks to develop the property. The project, he said, will be attractive to the city because it would provide needed affordable housing and parkland.
Bishop Ranch 2000 is owned by Michael Keston, an Encino-based developer. Although the property has been owned by Chicago-based University Exchange Corp. since 1957, Keston has a purchase agreement with the company.
The new majority in the council, led by Mayor Michael Bennett and council member Eric Onnen, has demonstrated that it’s willing to embrace development on designated ag land. In February it voted 3-2, with council members Jonny Wallis and Roger Aceves dissenting, to initiate General Plan amendments that would rezone the Shelby property from agriculture to residential use.
Bennett and Onnen received substantial campaign contributions from Keston and members of his family in the final weeks of November’s election, although both have said the money would not influence their decision-making.
Disputed ag land
The application takes great pains to dismiss the property’s suitability for agriculture. It asserts that there has been “no agricultural activity on the property” for more than 50 years. It claims attempts to raise cattle failed, as did plantings of citrus, strawberries and Christmas trees.
The property is bounded on two sides by agriculture.
John Givens, an organic farmer who works acreage around the Goleta Valley and Buellton, said he’d be happy to farm Bishop Ranch.
“To say that it isn’t good farmland just isn’t true,” Givens said. “If that land was available I wouldn’t spend my time driving to Buellton. That would be attractive to me.”
He also knows how attractive development is to property owners, given high land prices and a housing shortage.
“I would do the same thing in their shoes,” he said. “I’m really not against their development personally, but it sure is pretty without it.”
The application says the property was zoned for residential uses from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s, when it was “arbitrarily” changed to ag use by Santa Barbara County.
On balance, the application says, “this is a case of restoring the property’s designation to urban from the improper land use designation of agriculture … despite having no evidence of the property’s viability for agriculture.”
Further, the application includes a letter from Bob Braitman, executive officer of the Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission, that says the agency didn’t intend for the property to remain ag land when it established the city’s boundaries in 2001.
The long road ahead
Beyond the 240 affordable units and what he estimated at 120 units for seniors, Nolte said it was too soon to talk about the design of the development. Although he noted there is a “conceptual plan” for Bishop Ranch, “We really have no idea what kind of architecture would be there. It’s really premature to talk about what it would look like.”
Whatever its design or size, the proposal is likely to generate significant public opposition, which Nolte acknowledges. It’s just part of trying to build in Goleta, he said.
“There would be opposition if you were building10 houses,” he said.
Bishop Ranch 2000, the company that seeks to develop the property’s 240 acres, says its project would provide much-needed housing and parkland to Goleta.