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Santa Barbara - South County

Community fundraiser launched to save pristine preserve from housing development

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The San Marcos Foothills Preserve, a pristine mesa and popular hiking area in Santa Barbara County, has more visitors than ever these days and for many, a new worrisome sight: Notice of Proposed Development signs.

View from San Marcos Foothills Preserve (KEYT/Beth Farnsworth)

“Eight private lots developed with a home, a guest home, landscaping, cabana on about 24 acres,” said Elihu Gevirtz, Senior Ecologist with Channel Islands Restoration.

The approved Terrace housing development site sits in the Upper Preserve. It is linked, by design, to a second development, The Meadows, encompassing six estates in the Lower Preserve.

Both Gevirtz and Ken Owen, Executive Director of Channel Islands Restoration, say development on a 100 acre strip in the Upper Preserve's wide-open space would be detrimental to wildlife, including rare White Tail Kites and Burrowing Owls.

“We believe that this property is really the jewel, the crowning jewel of the property and needs to be protected for future generations,” Owen said.

The overall Preserve also has a rich history linked to the native Chumash people spanning 6,000 years, according to Santa Barbara County documents.

The approved 100 acre site includes a diminishing native grassland which runs through the middle of the original 377 acre parcel. More than 200 of those acres make up the public preserve, thanks to a deal made more than a decade ago.  Some say without that agreement, it's possible more housing would have been allowed.

“People are completely unaware that the development was going to happen just because it was approved so many years ago,” Owen said.

It was 15 years ago, to be exact. In 2005, Santa Barbara County and the landowner at the time agreed to protect the 200 acres on the eastern side of the preserve; 100 acres in the northern, western section was approved for housing.

Ken Owen (lft) Elihu Gevirtz (middle) Dani Lynch (rt) stand near posted Notices of Development (KEYT/Beth Farnsworth)

Channel Islands Restoration and local environmentalists have launched an eleventh hour community fundraising campaign in hopes of purchasing the 100 acres back from the current land owner, The Chadmar Group, at fair market rate. Gevirtz said a professional appraisal put the parcel value at $5.5 million dollars.

“I think it’s doable,” Gevirtz said. “On the one hand there’s a lot of people who are really struggling right now but, there’s also a lot of people who are blessed and could make this happen. We did it as a community for the Wilcox property. We did it at the Carpinteria Bluffs, Ellwood Mesa and the Sedgewick Ranch. And, the Burton Mesa and Point Sal. And there’s lots of examples where the community comes together and does it.”

“The folks who worked so hard to try and preserve the entire property were really discouraged when this part of the property was not preserved,” Owen said. “If the property gets developed it will be a gut-punch.”

NewsChannel reached out to The Chadmar Group. CEO Chuck Lande responded via email and through his spokesman, John Davies, who clarified details of the final project.

"Of the 100 acres of non-developed land, 76 acres is located in the Terrace area. That means the Terrace homes are on 25 acres and include just seven market rate homes and three affordable."

Davies explained that under the agreement, the three affordable homes must be built prior to the others being occupied. The additional acreage will remain undeveloped.

For more information about the San Marcos Foothills Preserve or to make a donation to the fundraising campaign, click the following link: http://sanmarcosfoothills.com/buythesanmarcosfoothills/pledge.html

For more information about The Chadmar Group and the housing development, click the following link: http://chadmar.com/management-team

The developer of this project released a statement to our newsroom. To read the statement in its entirety, click here.

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3.

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