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Naples proposal is all wet, panel says



An architect's vision for the first 16 homes at Naples -- sprawling Tuscan-style buildings on the north side of Highway 101, with pools, guest houses, red-tile roofs, three-car garages and lavender fields -- was soundly rejected at a county hearing Friday.

The houses would be too large, too monotonous, too visible and too reminiscent of Orange County, members of the public and the county Board of Architectural Review said. The stone facades and the turrets had to go, they said, and the lavender fields were "faux" agriculture, unlikely to be farmed by the wealthy owners-to-be.

"My overriding impression is that you have a huge challenge here at the gateway project to the Gaviota coast," said Valerie Froscher, a former board member.

"I don't think you're hitting close enough to home with your style. We're seeing an amalgamation of a lot of things we've seen before. By the time you get through with this, there shouldn't be any hint of suburbia."

The 16 homes for the future Santa Barbara Ranch, two miles west of Goleta's urban boundary, were up for informal review only. The developer, Matt Osgood of Corona del Mar, has not yet submitted an application. Under a special agreement with the county, Mr. Osgood can apply for permits to build up to 55 homes at Naples, on both sides of 101.

Friday, representatives for Mr. Osgood said they were willing to hold community workshops to hash out a design that was more palatable to South Coast residents.

Jack Zehren, Mr. Osgood's architect, told the board he sought to create a "coastal ranch"-style project with the feel of an agrarian community. That's why he incorporated fields of lavender around the perimeter of the homes, he said, and olive groves and avocado orchards elsewhere on the property. These could serve as commercial ventures as well as screens for the buildings.

"I'm a little surprised about the notion of keeping this a more open landscape," Mr. Zehren said. "We were walking in with the idea we needed to hide everything. These are good ideas we will think about. There's a lot to absorb and a lot to take in."

Some of the community members who spoke at Friday's hearing said they opposed any development at Naples. Under modern zoning, the 485-acre property is limited to agricultural uses and five homes.

The county's compromise with Mr. Osgood is based on the potential for hundreds of lots for homes that appear on maps drawn up by 19th-century speculators. The township they envisioned, called Naples-by-the-Sea, never materialized -- until now.

The entire Gaviota coast, from Coal Oil Point to Point Conception, is under review by the National Park Service for possible designation as a national seashore or national monument. A park study with a recommendation on how best to save the coast is due in January.

If Naples is to be developed, 9,000 square feet of buildings per lot is too much, some preservationists said Friday. The houses should hug the land and utilize the technology of solar power, wind power, adobe brick, straw-filled walls, composting toilets and pesticide-free landscaping, they said.

"Why don't we step forward and make it completely environmental?" asked Maya Jamal Kasberg, a UCSB student. "Why don't we just come out into the world?"

Loren Luyendyk, a Santa Barbara landscaper, said the pesticides used for agricultural operations might harm the Naples Reef offshore. He favors native grasses, since the new homeowners were not likely to be real farmers.

Ariana Katovich, a Sierra Club organizer, said no one would be able to stop the homeowners from spraying pesticides on the lavender to protect their children from bees.

"People aren't going to be clipping lavender and selling essential oils at the farmers market," Ms. Katovich said.

Board chairman Greg Ravatt thanked Mr. Zehren for supplying the county with so much information so early in the game. The board could have saved the architect some time if the plans had been brought at an even earlier stage, he said. Mr. Ravatt, who lives in the agricultural Santa Maria Valley, said that in his experience, it was problematic to place farm operations next to homes.

"Agriculture is a messy production," Mr. Ravatt said. "It also introduces grading. Plants are harvested, picked and replanted; and that's in conflict, I think."

Finally, Kate Dole, another board member, said she grew up on the Hollister Ranch, a subdivision on the coast west of Gaviota, where the homeowners' association runs a cattle-ranching operation. The houses there do not cover so much land as what's proposed at Naples, and there are no rows of trees marking the roads, Ms. Dole said.

"What makes the ranch work?" she asked. "You still get a special feeling because nothing leads your eyes away from the natural landscape. Nobody wants to see Naples. I think we have to go back to ground zero."