Because Orange County developer and Santa Barbara Ranch owner Matt Osgood defaulted on a loan to develop the Naples coast last spring, a portion of the acreage has been opened to the public for an undetermined amount of time.

Osgood bought the Naples area in 1998 in hopes of turning the 3,200 acre tract — located on the Gaviota coast just two miles west of Goleta — into over 70 estate-sized homes. Now, after more than a decade of debate between county authorities, conservationists and developers, a six-month legal process has allowed a bank, to which Osgood owes millions of dollars, to ensure that a portion of the Naples Ranch remains open to the public until further legal actions are taken. However, Osgood is expected to bring updated development plans to the County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 2, leaving the fate of the Naples Ranch and public access to it still hanging in the balance.

In Dec. 2009, Osgood failed to make a $3.1 million payment on a $63 million loan he had acquired from Missouri’s First Bank, prompting the bank to seize the Naples land and call for a public auction. No one made a bid on the property in mid-May last year when it went up for sale.

In June 2010, Missouri’s First Bank representative Neil Hausman petitioned the County Clerk-Recorder’s office for the “right of the public or any person to make any use whatsoever of the land … by permission and subject to control of the owner.”

According to Mike Lunsford, president of the Gaviota Coastal Conservancy, the opening of eastern portions of the Naples land for public entry is a milestone in the coastal development saga.

“The [public] can now [access trails to the ocean] without threat of prosecution for trespassing,” he said.

However, Lunsford remains unconvinced that the struggle over public access to the Naples territories is over. The foreclosure instituted by First Bank over Osgood’s account has not officially terminated his standing as the priority land-buyer.

“[First Bank has] an agreement now that [Osgood] has the right to buy the property first,” Lunsford said. “Now, there’s been no buyers found and the timeline on the option agreement keeps getting extended. The project, for the inland area, did get conditional approval from the Board of Supervisors. Assuming [Osgood] can find some money at some point and go forward with the planning process, it’s conceivable that he will carry the project out. We’re hoping that an opportunity to purchase the property will come about.”

Janet Koed, member of the nonprofit organization Naples Coalition, said the volunteer-activist group is not willing to surrender the fight over Naples’ open acres.

“It is a constant battle,” Koed said.

Koed said her organization is concerned about the negative environmental impacts building would have on the scenic coastline.

“We feel it’s pretty obvious that if [construction] graded along the bluff tops especially, there would be run-off and chemicals going along the coastline,” Koed said. “One simple thing [students] could do is to sign the petition we have and help gather signatures.”

As of press time, the Daily Nexus was unable to contact First Bank or Matt Osgood.