Massive House and Wall of Dirt Denied by Judge
A lawsuit filed by the Gaviota Coast Conservancy resulted on April 7, 2009 in an order rescinding County approvals and barring any further development on the project until an environmental impact report (EIR) is prepared and the County reconsiders the project.
"This is a significant ruling for the protection of the Gaviota Coast" explained Gaviota Coast Conservancy President Mike Lunsford. "This decision upholds the policies and environmental standards that apply to all of the Gaviota Coast. Ms. Ballantyne believed she was exempt from visual policies and could build a massive and grandiose house overlooking the spectacular Gaviota Coast without regard for the effect on public views and the environment. Now she must propose a house that meets County policy and respects the visual qualities of the Gaviota Coast."
Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Conservancy, stated "This decision reflects a return to the rule of law, after four years of land use planning decisions made principally on political grounds. First, the County must vacate all approvals of the project. The Court issued an injunction prohibiting further development on the site. Second, the Court ruled that the County must prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) evaluating the project's visual and aesthetic impacts. Previously, the County prepared an abbreviated Negative Declaration that failed to analyze the project's impacts. Finally, the Court concluded that the Project violated one or more policies in the General Plan, and ordered further policy analysis after the EIR is completed." As another court said, the General Plan is the "linchpin for California's land use and development laws; it is the principle which infuses the concept of planned growth with the force of law." Santa Barbara County's General Plan serves as the "constitution for all development" and guides all development proposals.
Over two years ago, Ms. Ballantyne and her husband Randy Welty were told by county staff that their project violated the General Plan, and were advised to modify the project to fit with General Plan standards. They refused, appealed the staff's determination, and eventually gained approval on a narrow 3-2 vote at the Board of Supervisors. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy sued in fall 2008 to overturn the County's approval, and today, Judge Thomas Anderle ruled in favor of the Conservancy.
The Ballantyne house and related structures total over 15,000 square feet of development, sited on a prominent ridge on the east end of the Gaviota Coast. The house itself is longer than a football field, leading Supervisor Centeno to predict that residents would need to use cell phones to find each other in such a "monstrous" house. Since it was proposed to be sited on top of a ridge, the house will be visible for miles around. Policies require the house to be located in a place on the 17 acre parcel to reduce visual impacts, but the applicant instead proposed a 660 foot long berm up to 10'7" tall to screen the residence from Highway 101.
The principal issue in the case was whether the views of the project from Farren Road were protected by a General Plan policy that prohibits projects that intrude into the skyline from public viewing places. The record showed that the Ballantyne house and assorted structures break the skyline when viewed from Farren Road north of the project.