The Heritage Ridge housing project in Goleta hit an unexpected speed bump just hours before the second session at the city’s planning committee. Earlier that Monday, the city received a 17-page letter from the State of Fish & Wildlife regarding four issues at the site: including a potential “takeover” of habitat for a fully protected species — the white-tailed kite — and the need for a wildlife corridor potentially. the breadth of the entire development. At first glance, both could be deal-killers for a much-needed affordable housing development.
Formerly known as Willow Springs North, the project spans 17 acres at the corner of Highway 101 and Los Carneros Road. There, Red Tail Multifamily Land Development plans to build 332 apartments, 104 of which will be for low and very low incomes, twice as much as the city needs for development. It is the third of the larger Willow Springs project, originally planned in the early 2000s by the late Michael Towbes, who bought the property in the 1980s. Before his death in 2017, Towbes, the founder of Montecito Bank & Trust, was a housing and philanthropy giant in Santa Barbara County.
Willow Springs I has 235 homes and Willow Springs II has 100. With Heritage Ridge, the three properties fit in the land between Highway 101 and Hollister Avenue. Union Pacific rail lines, highway lanes, and Calle Real separate it from Lake Los Carneros to the north. A wildlife corridor has been shown to run through the middle of the Heritage Ridge site, then the Los Carneros Wetlands next to Willow Springs I, through a culvert under Hollister Avenue, and into the Goleta Slough around the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, in the environmental zone. impact report for Willow Springs II.
All this is to say that the development could have built itself into a corner.
At the project’s earlier meeting in late March before the planning commissioners, the main disagreement over six feet of creek setback was for Los Carneros Creek and whether the vegetation on the site should be classified as environmentally sensitive. At Monday night’s meeting, the developer had given up another six feet into the building closest to the creek — about the ninth change the team made to reach the creek’s setback — and the Environmental Defense Center called on only the city for the change in the environmental document.
However, the Fish & Wildlife letter points out that the project’s wildlife corridor — 24 to 40 feet wide between a noise barrier and South Los Carneros Road — “will result in increased death” among animals known to cross the land, some as big as bobcat and coyote. The alternative was to consider “redesigning the development,” Fish & Wildlife advised, possibly increasing the hallway to 120 feet, the width of the project property at its narrowest point.
The scientifically accepted minimum width for a wildlife corridor is 300 feet “from any human disturbance or use,” notes the Fish & Wildlife letter. Too narrow a corridor causes road noise and vibration interference to the detriment of animals in tracking down prey and avoiding predators; also, the development would introduce pets as predators, artificial lighting could disturb nocturnal animals, and the new range of commuters living on Heritage Ridge would be active in the early morning and late evening hours when most of the animal-vehicle collisions occur – all of which lead to contributed to turning the corridor into a “population pit”, or a place where the animal population would decline.
“The [Heritage Ridge] The project site is the only undeveloped site in the immediate vicinity and the only north/south wildlife corridor between the Los Carneros wetlands and two creeks to the Goleta Slough,” the Fish & Wildlife brief states, a corridor extending into the Santa Ynez Mountains. It is known as a hunting ground for the white-tailed kite, which nest near Los Carneros Lake to the north and more numerous at More Mesa, three miles away. The letter offers potential mitigations for the bird of prey by “setting aside replacement habitat to be protected forever,” as well as an endowment to manage that land.
The two other issues addressed in the letter — locally sensitive vegetation communities and effects on Los Carneros Creek — can also be mitigated, the letter says, but studies were needed both before and after the project. In regards to all of its concerns, expressed in a 13-page letter earlier in 2021, Fish & Wildlife disagreed with the environmental report’s findings that they were each “less than significant.”
When asked by Commissioner Katie Maynard what the effect of the Fish & Wildlife letter would be, the city’s environmental adviser Nicole West of Rincon Consultants replied that the agency had licensing authority over the project, along with the city’s over this. issues. Because the letter is still pending, those concerns would be their focus in the coming days, West said. No date has yet been set for the third Planning Committee meeting at Heritage Ridge.
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