For lovers of the Ellwood Coast, it appears that less is, in fact, more.

The Santa Barbara County Park Commission hosted a public information gathering, which drew approximately 100 people Wednesday evening to debate the design of the Santa Barbara Shores Park Master Plan. The plan will determine the future of a 118-acre parcel located adjacent to the Sandpiper Golf Course as well as the property owned by developer Randall Fox. The site contains many environmental resources, including monarch butterfly aggregation sites, natural grasslands, wetlands and wildlife.

The Park Commission heard public input regarding future development of the property, and a presentation regarding various alternative plans for the site, before sending the plan back to the Parks Dept. staff for further revisions.

Director of Parks Dept. Jennifer Briggs said the master plan is being revised due to changes in the landscape since a 1993 environmental study.

“This commission and the staff are acutely aware that the previous park master plan was flawed,” said Briggs. “It is my hope that we can come up with a plan that the public can embrace and support.”

The county acquired the site in 1990 for the purpose of creating a regional, active recreational park, namely for ballfields, picnic facilities and trails. In 1993, the commission approved a master plan concept, and an environmental impact study began. In 1999, the Parks Dept. realized the 1993 plan would cause unavoidable Class 1 environmental impacts – particularly to wildlife – forcing the old plan to be aborted and a new plan initiated.

Briggs said the new master plan concepts have focused on the county’s documented need for more active recreational space, which has generated much debate in the community as to whether the commission should develop the site or leave it undeveloped. Lifelong Ellwood resident Daniel McClaine said the commission should choose a plan that preserves as much open space as possible.

“I encourage the commission to save active uses for a more central location in the community and preserve this site for more passive uses,” he said.

All those who spoke expressed essentially the same view – the park should be preserved for passive recreational use. Santa Barbara City College student Emily Draws said she is concerned about the changes that developing the property would entail.

“The thing I love about riding my bike from I.V. to the trails in the park is that you can’t see a single building or light,” Draws said. “If we put in ballfields, I fear the lighting and being able to see man-made things. I think that by putting all this junk in there, you would ruin it.”

Florence Klein, a two-year resident of I.V. and longtime Goleta resident, agreed with Draws.

“My response to [developing the area] is a welling nausea at the options given to us,” he said. “The commission’s job is to protect what the public holds dear, and that is this beautiful piece of land. There are many parks and ballfields around the Goleta Valley, and we don’t need to put more here. There’s always an opportunity to develop, but once we do, there’s no turning back. I say we draw the line in the sand here with this property to protect the Gaviota Coast.”

After public comment, the members of the Parks Commission expressed its views concerning the possible development of the site. First District Commissioner Suzanne Perkins summed up the board’s position.

“Things have changed on this site in the last 10 years, and all the change has been positive,” Perkins said. “Things have grown and come back; there’s abundant wildlife. I certainly agree with all of you; we need an active recreation site, but this is not the right spot for it. I would like to see development focus on a passive, open-space park.”

“We are obligated to look at all the alternatives, but we’ve heard the message tonight,” Briggs said. “We’re looking not to create a passive park, but a reserve.”

Another meeting will be held March 29 to review the revised master plan.