With decades of debate preceding their decision, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission took two major steps forward in deciding the fate of the Naples property this month, bringing the controversial coastal development closer to fruition.

After an eight-hour public hearing concerning all things Naples, the Planning Commission agreed on two key decisions that will jumpstart the approval process for the proposed development of 72 estate-sized homes along one of the few remaining stretches of undeveloped coastline in Southern California. Much to the consternation of most in attendance, the commission determined the recently completed Final Environmental Impact Report — an extensive document over two years in the making — was adequate. Furthermore, the commission agreed on a more concrete vision for the development, pending a final vote from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

Voicing their unanimous support, the Planning Commission gave the Naples project a definitive look by approving a development plan known as “Alternative Prime.” Unlike Naples co-owner Matt Osgood’s plan for 54 estates on 485 acres, the agreed upon approach will incorporate nearby Dos Pueblos Ranch and spread 72 large-scale homes over approximately 3,100 acres.

Many in attendance were irked by the quick decision the commission made, having received the data on the Alternative Prime project only 36 hours prior to their decision. Marc Chytilo, an attorney for the Naples Coalition, said he thought the commission had made a serious mistake.

“I think [the Planning Commission] committed a grave error and have sold short the Gaviota coast,” Chytilo said. “They had the information for the new alternative for less than 36 hours and they still felt comfortable approving it.”

Additionally, much of the EIR was written prior to the existence of the Alternative Prime option. After hours of hearing testimony on the subject, the commissioners — many of whom admitted to not having read the entire report — determined that the EIR, while not perfect, was acceptable.

“This EIR will never be perfect … but that’s OK,” 2nd District Commissioner Cecilia Brown said, expressing her support of the document. “The evolution of this has been one of great improvement. I feel comfortable with the document.”

This stress on adequacy was not, however, shared by the approximately 20 speakers during the public comment session. All who spoke, disagreed with the commission.

After having approved the EIR, the commission heard from county planner Tom Figg, who in effect told them that prior to making progress on any major policy issues, the commissioners would first have to agree on which project option to pursue.

The options included the original memorandum-of-understanding project, the Alternative 1 project that incorporates the neighboring Dos Pueblos Ranch and the agreed upon Alternative 1B project — a.k.a. Alternative Prime — which mirrors the Alternative 1 project but moves 14 of the house sites north of Highway 101 and further out of sight. Additionally, the commission could have chosen the Alternative 2 project — designed by the Naples Coalition — that calls for no houses on the coastal terrace and employs cluster housing design, or the No Project option.

By choosing the Alternative Prime option, the commission has moved all but the 15-house site located on the coastal terrace, south of Highway 101, out of the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission, which has the ultimate say on any development within their jurisdiction.

According to Figg, any discussion concerning land-use consistency, re-zoning or coastal access would be impossible without knowing which option to apply them to. It took just a short round of further discussions for the commissioners to agree on the Alternative Prime option.

Despite the unanimous vote, there were varying levels of support among the commissions. In general, however, the commissioners agreed that the Alternative 1B project is, as Commissioner Daniel Blough said, “environmentally superior to anything that has been presented.”

However, C.J. Jackson, who represents the 3rd District on the commission, said he thought the decision was counterintuitive.

“[This decision] suggests that more building on the coast could somehow be superior to less,” he said.

The Planning Commission has another meeting on Naples scheduled for Monday, July 21 and hope to have a final decision to send to the board of supervisors after their planned meeting on August 13.