In what might mean an end to 17 years of debate, real estate developers, Santa Barbara County and UCSB have agreed on a tentative plan for development near the Ellwood Bluffs.

In a deal brokered by the county, the Santa Barbara Development Partnership will give up its hotly debated plans to build condominiums on the Ellwood Bluffs and the university will build faculty housing near the Ocean Meadows Golf Course instead of along the Devereux Slough. The deal still has to make it past the Goleta City Council, which didn’t exist when the county started negotiations.

Building Homes for Professors

In exchange for preserving the West Campus bluffs, the university would be allowed to put in faculty housing around the Ocean Meadows Golf Course. The course would relocate its driving range for 151 units of new student family housing and another 236 units of faculty housing on the northern part of Ocean Meadows.

UCSB and the county devised the joint proposal for the Ellwood-Devereux Coast last August. UCSB hopes to build 236 faculty homes that could attract professors to UCSB.

Associate Vice Chancellor Everett Kirkelie said the median price of homes on the south coast is near $600,000, a hefty price with current faculty salaries.

“With the 236 homes, we hope to support recruitment of faculty over the next 10 years to replace retiring faculty,” Kirkelie said.

Go West, Developers

The proposal would shift a 131-unit housing development, planned by the Santa Barbara Development Partnership, further north to the county-owned Santa Barbara Shores Park next to Sandpiper Golf Course and away from the Ellwood area. The Ellwood coast, from Sandpiper to the Coal Oil Point Reserve and east to Isla Vista, would be permanently preserved as open space.

The Santa Barbara Development Partnership is willing to give up 18 acres of land as permanent open space – in exchange for a $5 million to 6 million tax credit. The land swap will be done through the Trust for Public Land (TPL). The TPL is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that acts as a third-party appraiser in negotiations between landowners and the public. The Goleta City Council appointed the TPL as an intermediary to swap the lands and to award the Development Partnership tax credits for the Ellwood Bluffs.

TPL spokeswoman Mary Meness said negotiations are underway but details remain confidential until an agreement is reached.

“We don’t have an agreement right now and we are negotiating the purchase of the 137-acre property. We would love to see it as protected open space,” Meness said. “It has significant wildlife habitat, monarch groves and vernal pools. It’s really a special place.”

Developer Bob Comstock said the tax credit is a great opportunity for residents to protect a natural resource. The credits, he said, will help ease the financial burden of moving his development to a less valuable site.

Bike Paths, Parking Lots and Bathrooms

To make the new homes more attractive, and to increase public access to the Ellwood Bluffs and the beaches below, the county proposes putting a multi-use paved trail from the end of El Colegio Road, across the Ellwood Mesa and up the bluff top to the Santa Barbara Shores Park. Along the trail, the county would put benches, overlook spots, a restroom and an interpretive center. The county would put a 75-space parking lot near the housing development property in the Santa Barbara Shores Park. The county would also put in a 40-space parking lot at Coal Oil Point and the end of Del Playa Drive, and a 20-space lot behind the Coal Oil Point Reserve and Sands Beach.

“Our goal is to preserve and enhance some of the property at hand,” county planner Diane Meester said at a public meeting in January. “This plan will provide community access, hiking trails and access to the beach.”

From Plan to Reality

For the Ellwood proposal to work, a small miracle has to happen: the UC Board of Regents, Santa Barbara County, private developers and the Goleta City Council all have to agree. If any one of those parties is unhappy, the plan is, in the words of Meester, “torpedoed.” Even then, the plan still has to make it past the California Coastal Commission.

Associate Vice Chancellor Kirkelie said the proposal could take two more years.

“Once it’s going, it would probably be an 18-month to two-year process of planning, public hearings and then a final proposal would go to the decision makers,” Kirkelie said.

The Goleta City Council is still making up its mind.

When Goleta became its own city in February, much of the county’s jurisdiction moved to the new city, giving the city council the responsibility to administer the proposed land swap. Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell said a public meeting, tentatively scheduled for mid-July, will address a long list of issues ranging from recreational trails to traffic and parking issues. Connell said she is disappointed with the lack of input from Goleta residents.

“We would prefer issues raised by Goletans to be included in the main proposal and not as alternatives,” she said.

Connell said it is important to move the swap along so that the Ellwood Bluffs are not developed.

“There’s always the possibility that housing on the bluff might come back if the timing got stalled,” Connell said.

For now, local environmentalists are staying out of the fight.

Friends of the Ellwood Coast Director Chris Lange said she is waiting for the private negotiation between Comstock and the TPL to continue at its own pace.

“The timeline has some flux in it. This is the nature of private acquisition of agreements like that,” Lange said. “We don’t know how soon they will be finalized.”

Lange said the long process was worth the effort.

“It doesn’t matter how hard this process goes,” she said. “It’s a place that just isn’t going to be developed, period.”