The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to slash the study area for the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan by 79 percent Tuesday, leaving the excluded land subject to existing zoning regulations.

The board’s decision reduced the area included in the plan from 231,050 acres to just 49,040 acres, cutting out mostly agricultural land, farms and ranches. Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said the decision to reduce the acreage of land that falls under the plan’s jurisdiction will expedite its implementation, while opponents of the decision say it will allow sprawling development inconsistent with the area’s rural character.

“There was confusion about how large the master plan should be, and that was causing a lot of dissension,” Firestone said.

Firestone said the plan will now be evaluated in an environmental impact report before it returns to the Santa Ynez Valley General Plan Advisory Committee and is subsequently voted on by the board of supervisors. Firestone said the process could take anywhere from nine months to a year.

“I think everybody’s happy that the plan is moving forward; it’s a long process,” Firestone said.

Dan Milstein, assistant executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN), said cutting thousands of acres of land out of the plan would allow the existing zoning regulations to stay in place there, thus leaving the land open to development and urban sprawl.

“It makes absolutely no sense to take the rural land out of the plan,” Milstein said. “The opponents think if they keep the zoning the same, it will keep the valley the same, but it’s just the opposite.”

Milstein said there are incentives to develop the land in the valley, and under the board’s ruling, it is just a matter of time before development begins. Milstein said the board failed to consider the possibility of future development before making its decision.

Firestone said there would still be enormous restrictions on development and what could be done to the land, and he said that taking the agricultural land out of the process would not threaten the community as a whole.

“To mix up pure agricultural land with urban rural might lead to more development in the urban rural,” Firestone said.

Milstein said the only way to prevent development of the valley is to adopt a plan that would consider the valley as a whole. If the plan dealt with the entire valley, he said, regional variables – like the valley’s road traffic, water resources, schools, emergency services and agriculture – would be easier to control.

“Pretty much everyone wants to keep the valley as it is,” Milstein said. “The whole point of creating a community plan for the valley was to empower its residents to determine the future of their community.”

The plan’s goal, according to its mission statement, is to improve the Santa Ynez Valley by preserving its rural character, improving and maintaining its infrastructure and protecting its agriculture.

The Santa Ynez Valley, located in central Santa Barbara County, encompasses the cities of Solvang and Buellton, as well as Lake Cachuma and the nearby Chumash Casino Resort.

Milstein said development could potentially disrupt the scenery and atmosphere of the valley, which he said is vital to the area’s tourist economy.

“[Agricultural] land can be preserved in perpetuity and land values maintained, or even enhanced, with creative solutions that get away from the contentious zoning battles of the past,” Milstein said.