The Gaviota Coast Conservancy and the private owners of a 17-acre parcel are still locked in dispute over a proposal to build a 15,000 square foot home on the lot, after the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors demanded a lengthy environmental impact report last week.

Lynn Ballantyne, the owner of the property, and her husband Randall Welty initially submitted their large-scale architectural plans for review in spring of 2005. Gaviota Coast Conservancy member Mike Lunsford said the project, which includes a guesthouse, garage and barn in addition to the 11,498 square foot main house, is not allowed under coastal or rural zoning laws.

Lunsford said Ballantyne’s project near Farren Road would make the property visible from Highway 101 and violate zoning laws that prohibit the construction of structures that obstruct public viewing areas.

According to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s website, the zoning laws preserve the rural atmosphere of Gaviota Coast. Lunsford said construction projects must blend in with the existing landforms and natural landscape in order to maintain the natural beauty of the area, which exists as one of the largest unobstructed coastlines in California.

“If they can shove this project through, Gaviota Coast is toast,” he said. “We’re not saying they can’t build a house there. We’re just saying they can’t do it this way.”

In the past two years ago, many government agencies have reviewed the construction plan. After the county planning staff denied the proposal, Ballantyne took it to the County of Santa Barbara Planning Commission, which approved the project with restrictions. The commission stipulated that Ballantyne construct the housing addition another 20 feet farther away from the highway and that the owner place an 11 foot berm – a manmade hill -between the highway and house to block it from public view.

Lunsford said the Gaviota Coast Conservancy opposes the project not only because it violates the zoning laws, but also because it sets a precedent for leniency concerning construction on the coast.

“This is a very important case to us,” he said. “It is a potentially precedent-setting case. … These people came along and asked for something that was not permitable. They asked for something that was not allowed under the zoning. They would not take no for an answer.”

After the Planning Commission approved the project, the conservancy appealed to the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors, which voted at a meeting last Tuesday to postpone its final decision, pending a detailed environmental impact report.

Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said the board did not make a decision because neither the owner’s application nor the appeal were complete.

According to Firestone, the supervisors saw a drawing of the proposed house based on its original architectural plans and not those that were revised by the City Planning Commission.

“The final drawing of the house needs to be submitted,” Firestone said. “In the planning commission, they said there needed to be a setback and a berm, but there was no picture. The picture that was shown to the board was the original house setting, which had been changed.”

Firestone said the Board of Supervisors would have liked to make a final decision and put an end to the controversy, but he said it was not possible without accurate information.

“How can you show us this picture, when it’s not the current project?” Firestone said. “Nobody could say with certainty whether or not the house could be seen by the road. Without that clarity, we were not in a position to make a decision.”

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to impose an environmental review, which will take anywhere from three to six months, before making a final decision.

Lunsford said the Gaviota Coast Conservancy will continue to battle the Ballantyne project.

“If [Ballantyne] can do it, the county is going to have a hard time explaining to other people why they can’t do it,” he said. “We just need to make sure the law is followed here.”

The 45-mile Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County stretches from Coal Oil Point in Goleta to Point Sal State Beach near Lompoc. The region makes up 15 percent of the Southern California coast and contains 50 percent of its undeveloped rural coastline.