Supervisors to consider appeal on July 19

By Raiza Giorgi

A proposed zip line and ropes course at Stu Gildred’s Sky Ranch between Solvang and Buellton is going through an obstacle course of its own as it seeks approval from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

The county Planning Commission has approved the project, but a neighbor appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors. Despite the blessing of the county planning staff and considerable support from officials in the Santa Ynez Valley, the supervisors postponed a decision in June and are scheduled to discuss the appeal again on July 19.

“We have spent a great deal of effort and complied with all the different rules and regulations to get this zip line and ropes course built, and to be told at this point so late in the game that one person complaining can derail our project is ridiculous,” Gildred said.

Kathy Vreeland of the Buellton Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau said she hopes the Board of Supervisors will approve the project because it aligns so well with Buellton’s goal of increasing recreational opportunities for locals and visitors.

“Not only is it a great asset for our community, but the entire county can be proud to welcome this great outdoor adventure,” she said.

“A few years ago Buellton developed a visioning plan, which identified various goals. One of the goals was the need for an increase in recreational opportunities for all ages. A zip line and ropes course would be a perfect fit for our community and goes along with the vision for Buellton. The youth in the valley need opportunities for activities and employment, both of which can be answered with this project,” she added.

The project was approved by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission as well as the Agricultural Preserve Advisory Committee and the Agricultural Advisory Committee after three years of effort.

Gildred was granted permission to build five separate zip lines, which guests would be able to ride in tandem, on runs ranging from 420 feet to 2,100 feet long. The zip line and adventure park would use 40 of the 1,186-acre ranch he owns off Highway 246, south of the Santa Ynez River between Solvang and Buellton.

He has also been approved for a special state permit, since cars will have to travel through the bed of the river. Multiple studies were done on the potential impacts on birds, frogs and other wildlife.

“We got the idea to build our own zip line after taking my sons to the one at Lake Lopez. We had such a fun time bonding and spending time away from the electronics that it inspired me. I had been looking for a good use of my property that would bring the community together, and I found it,” he said.

His ranch once belonged to Slick Gardner, known locally for being an Auto Racing Club of America driver who became a wild-horse rescuer and then an animal abuser, who was eventually evicted from the ranch.

Gildred has owned the property for a decade after spending most of his career working for wine giants such as Gallo and Kendall Jackson before returning to the family business of real estate.

The Planning Commission approved the installation of 20 large poles to hang the zip lines. The adventure park would be allowed no more than 80 customers a day.

“We are using existing roads and buildings for staging and safety orientations, and the lands we are putting the poles on aren’t suitable for any other operation,” Gildred said.

According to the staff report from the June 17 board hearing, Gildred has already mitigated the appellant’s concerns about traffic problems caused by turning the property into a commercial operation.

In its approval, the Agricultural Advisory Committee acknowledged that in some circumstances recreational projects conflict with agricultural operations, but not this one.

The Public Works Transportation staff cited trip-generation estimates in a 2014 traffic and circulation report in saying that traffic to the project would not be excessive.

The benefits far outweigh the costs of a few more cars on the access road, which is already permitted for that many car trips, Gildred added.

“The zip line would be a wonderful addition to what the valley has to offer. It provides the opportunity for visitors and locals alike to enjoy and appreciate the beauty our valley from a unique perspective,” said Shelby Sim, executive director of Visit the Santa Ynez Valley.

Debbie Arnold, the San Luis Obispo County 5th District supervisor, voted to approve the Margarita Adventure zip line at Santa Margarita Ranch (which was engineered by Santa Ynez resident Matt Burtness) and said the project has been good for the Santa Margarita community.

“I hear nothing but great things about the zip line and how much fun people have when they go,” Arnold said.

Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson noted that Gildred’s project would be good for the youth of the valley because it’s a healthy activity that would get them away from their electronic devices.

“While that’s true, I believe Stu’s project is also designed to bring in the visitors. It feeds our tourism industry, which enables us to live in a beautiful area that others must pay to visit and enjoy our valley for a couple of hours or days,” Richardson added.

Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau, agreed the zip line and ropes course would be great for offering additional opportunities for locals and tourists to experience the outdoors in a unique way.

“This is going to be so good for our kids that don’t have many things to do in the valley, until the bowling alley (the pending Live Oak Lanes in Buellton) is built, which we are excited about, but this will be one more attraction to get kids outside and doing something positive,” she said.

The Board of Supervisors meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 19 at their meeting room on the 4th floor of 105 E. Anapamu Street in Santa Barbara. For more information contact Gildred at 252-1498 or email