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Developer Agrees To Give Community Chance To Buy Scenic Bluffs In Santa Barbara County

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(KCLU photo)
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Some groups and members of the community have come together to launch a drive to try to save this 100 plus acres of land from development.

It’s a unique chunk of land with ocean and mountain views near the base of San Marcos Pass, just east of Highway 154.

A developer has permits to build eight new luxury homes on the just over 100 acres of property.  But, some people have been calling for the hilly grassland to be preserved.  Now, an agreement is giving the community a chance to buy, and preserve the west mesa of the San Marcos Foothills.

Mark Chytilo is an attorney representing the non-profit group “Save The San Marcos Foothills.”  He worked with the owners of the property, the Chadmar Group, to come up with a proposal to buy and preserve the property.  As more than a hundred people looked on the site, Chytilo outlined the agreement, which he says will require major community support.

The developer will stop construction for 90 days.  If the community can raise $20 million dollars, it will be able to buy and preserve the property. 

The issue goes back decades.  The owners and developers reached a unique deal with Santa Barbara County which allowed the construction of some homes.  As part of the deal, they gave 200 of just over 300 acres of land to the community for permanent preservation as a preserve, the San Marcos Foothills Nature Preserve.  They could build homes on a portion of the remaining 100 acres.

Developer Chuck Landy says they’ve had the key permits to build the eight remaining planned homes.  But, he says they live in the community, too, and want to open the door to the effort to buy and preserve the land.

With work set to start last month, different groups tried to stop construction, or work out a plan to buy it.  One group started a fundraising effort.  A second went to court.  And, some protestors showed up to physically try to block work, leading some to some arrests. The developers agreed to sit down and talk, which led to the proposal for the community to buy the land.

As a part of the agreement, the Save the San Marcos Foothills group issued an apology for the physical confrontation, and thanked the developer for not pursuing charges against those arrested.

But, the big issue is whether the community can raise the $20 million dollars needed to buy the land in 90 days.  Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart says it’s been done before with a number of other pieces of land threatened with development.  But, he admits raising $20 million dollars in 90 days is a steep hill to climb.

Making it tougher is that because of the tight timeline, what’s known as the “Foothills Forever” campaign won’t be able to get state, or federal land conservation grants.

But, Chytilo, who helped broker the agreement, says the good news is thanks to efforts by groups like Channel Islands Restoration, some money has already been raised with well over a million dollars already been pledged.

As a part of the agreement, the developers can do land testing during the 90 days, but no grading or any other physical work.  But, if the community can’t come up with the money, the Save The San Marcos Foothills group has agreed that it won’t take further steps to stop the project.

The Santa Barbara Foundation is going to help administer the “FoohillsForever.org” campaign.  The campaign's website is: foothillsforever.org