By Serena Guentz

Contributing Writer

The Buellton City Council held a special meeting Saturday, May 15, at the Willemsen Barn to discuss ideas for how to best use the property and serve the community.

Located at 202 Dairyland Road in Buellton, the 24-acre property was purchased by the city of Buellton in May 2020 for $2 million.

The city was originally interested in buying only the 20-acre lower portion of the property to use as a reserve to expand the city’s wastewater treatment facility if needed in the future. However, the Willemsen family did not want to split up the property, so the city council eventually bought the entire property.

The city council is now looking to neighbors and the community for ideas on how to utilize the property.

“This is a beautiful piece of property that I would like to see kept as much as it is for the community’s enjoyment,” said Mayor Holly Sierra. “This is city property, so now this is your property.”

The property was previously owned by the Willemsen family and used as a dairy farm for decades. Since purchasing the property, the city council has designated the barn as a historical landmark. This currently does not prohibit the removal of the barn; however, this gives the city council the ability to require monumentation, as well as the authority to prohibit removal of the barn in the future. 

Several neighbors and community members attended the meeting to speak during public comment and present their ideas.

Some neighbors from the adjacent streets, Valley Dairy Road and Dairyland Road, expressed concern about the increase in traffic and noise that the property’s new uses may bring, but they were overall excited with the ideas presented.

Some popular ideas included moving the Buellton Library to the house on the property, expanding the Zaca Center Preschool, building pickleball courts, bringing an outdoor children’s museum to the property, and much more.

“I would like to see the property not just be a luxury and not just be adding to the weekend things that people can do, but actually serve critical needs for our valley,” said councilmember Elysia Lewis.

The Buellton Library and the Zaca Center Preschool are two popular ideas that are competing for use of the house.

Many community members want to move the Buellton Library, which is currently located at 140 West Highway 246, to the house on the Willemsen Property and then expand the Buellton Senior Center into the current library space.

Meanwhile, the Zaca Center Preschool, which is currently located at 27 Six Flags Circle, also wants to expand into the house.

The Zaca Center Preschool, which describes itself as an “inclusion preschool” where children with special needs are included in all classrooms and activities, currently serves 43 students. Another center would double that number, according to Leanna Watson, a representative and advocate for the preschool.

An idea that appeared to be uncontested was the Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum.

Currently, the Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum holds events for children at the Santa Ynez Botanic Garden on the first Saturday of every month, but the museum is looking for a permanent location of its own.

The Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum wants to utilize the old tractor barn on the property as its only indoor space, with the rest being an outdoor museum for kids to play and learn.

The museum has plans for a community garden, a recirculating water feature, slides going down the hill to the lower portion of the property, art and building stations, playhouses, and much more for children and parents or caregivers to enjoy together.

For the lower portion of the property, proposals included sports fields, an archery range, an equestrian center, and courts for pickleball, a paddleball sport the has been gaining popularity that combines components of tennis, badminton and ping pong.

“I think it’s safe to say that, given the amount of land area we have [in the lower portion], … there is sufficient room for all of them,” said City Manager Scott Wolfe.

While no official decisions were made during the special meeting, some ideas did seem to stand out more to the council.

“I think the Children’s Museum is a no-brainer and honestly I think the library is a no-brainer,” Sierra said. 

Sierra said that Zaca Center Preschool is a vital part of the community, but she would like to see the Buellton Library occupy the front half of the house.

Official decisions for use of the property will be made in future meetings when the council brings this as agendized items in phases starting in one of its June meetings.

“People have the most amazing ideas,” Sierra said. “There’s so much we could do here and it’s so exciting.”