By Victoria Martinez
Public concerns about an annexation and “sphere of influence” study have led the Solvang Planning Commission to advise the City Council to delay further steps until public workshops can be held.
The first of what was expected to be many conversations between Solvang residents, city staff and elected officials about the study resulted in the Planning Commission voting 3-1 to recommend delay, with Chairman Robert Clarke dissenting.
The City Council is scheduled to review the commission’s recommendations at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 26.
More than 80 people attended the Planning Commission meeting and close to 30 people spoke, the majority of whom were vehemently opposed to Solvang growing in one or more ways suggested in the study thus far, or insisting that public input should carry considerable weight in such decisions.
“Residents are like the ingredients in the recipe that have been left out,” said Susan Belloni, a Solvang resident and organizer of Save Our Solvang.
Two areas are being examined for possible additions to the city’s sphere of influence, which would make them eligible for future annexation.
What’s known as the Western Study Area consists of 11 parcels just west of the city limits, totaling approximately 295 acres and made up of mostly agriculture land with some commercial and industrial zoning. The Northeast Study Area consists of four agricultural parcels totaling approximately 88 acres that are east and west of Sunny Fields Park.
For annexation to be considered, the land’s zoning would need to change in some fashion. Suggested options include types of residential, commercial and recreational uses.
Susan Bott, another organizer of the Save Our Solvang group, told the council that more than 600 people had signed a petition opposing any increase in Solvang’s size.
During the meeting, Solvang Planning and Economic Development Directory Holly Owen reiterated that the meeting was just the first that would allow for residents to be heard as the city’s Planning Commission and City Council explore if and how the city should proceed.
“It’s just the public conversation that needs to happen,” Owen said.
A number of residents brought up the issue of traffic and questioned why it was not a bigger focus in the study since it’s an ongoing concern of many residents in Solvang. After the meeting, Owen explained that traffic impact is examined as part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process if the city and landowners were to decide they wanted to try to move forward with an annexation at some point in the future.
David Foote from Firma, the consulting firm conducting the study, walked the commission and audience members through the study thus far, including the four land-use scenarios provided for discussion purposes and to explain the need for direction as to which scenarios to study for fiscal impact and somewhat of a “reality check.”
“It is a necessary step to know what we are looking at,” Foote said.
He went on to say that nothing in the study was hard and fast, and the commission could recommend any scenarios they deemed necessary for fiscal impact study, not limited to those being presented.
Once the discussion was brought back to the commissioners, there was no consensus as to how to move forward with recommendations for the City Council.
Commissioner Gay Infanti said she was torn between her responsibility to send recommendations to the council and her desire not to see the landscape of Solvang change.
“I would like to see both sides of 246 stay green and open,” Infanti said.
She also pointed out that the Santa Ynez Community Service District included some of the Northeast Study Area in at least one scenario of their Recycled Water Facilities Plan Final Draft in May 2017 and it may be in the city’s best interest to study the annexation of that land.
Commissioner Aaron Petersen agreed that there was merit in exploring Solvang’s future growth.
“The questions need to be asked and the discussions need to take place,” Petersen said.
However, Petersen explained that he was not comfortable making any type of recommendation to the council at that time.
Chairman Robert Clarke and Commissioner Jack Williams both had certain scenarios they saw value in studying further, but the suggestion by Petersen to advise the City Council to hold public workshops as had been requested during public comment was received well by the majority of the commission.
In the end, the commission preferred more conversations be facilitated for residents and staff before recommendations for the fiscal impact portion of the study take place.
The City Council had previously established “future growth” as a goal and has had at least half a dozen public conversations about exploring sphere of influence amendments and possible annexations since 2012. Solvang’s last annexation was the addition of the nine-acre Sunny Fields Park area in 2005.
Regardless of how the City Council decides to move forward Feb. 26, any process going forward would be a lengthy one due to necessary procedures, studies, approvals, and funding. The city has invited LAFCO Executive Director Paul Hood to speak about the annexation process and timeline at that meeting.