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Naples settlement deal advances to supervisors

County to weigh preservation trade-off

11/24/99 By MELINDA BURNS
NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER

mburns@newspress.com

 A proposal to settle a 15-year court dispute over the development of Naples-by-the Sea, a paper township on the Gaviota coast west of Goleta, will get an airing by the county Board of Supervisors next month.

 The proposal could help preserve 222 acres of land along thebeach, south of Highway 101, but it also could result in the construction of up to 88 homes on 263 acres north of Highway 101. The 485-acre property, which is owned by the Morehart family of Carpinteria, lies on grazing land west of the Arco golf course site and the still-unfinished Bacara Resort &Spa.

 Mark Lloyd, a land planner who is representing both the Moreharts and the potential developer, Matt Osgood, president of Vintage Communities Inc. of Costa Mesa, said his clients were trying to be sensitive to the public's concerns. Just last week, Congress set aside funds for a study of the scenic coastal area to determine whether it should be preserved as a national park.

 "The Moreharts recognize what that resource means to the community,"Lloyd said. "They are making substantial compromises. We're not talking about some or even a little development south of the freeway. We're talking about none."

  The deadline for purchase of the land south of 101 would be Feb. 15.Unofficial estimates of the asking price range from $14 million to $18 million. After the sale of the 222 acres, Osgood could apply to the county to build 88 homes at Naples on the north side of Highway 101. If the Feb. 15 deadline cannot be met, the deal would be canceled.

 The Board of Supervisors will hear the settlement proposal on Dec.13, the first public discussion of the future of Naples in years. Up to now,the negotiations have involved only the county's lawyers, the Moreharts' lawyers, the staff of the county Planning and Development Department, and developers.

 The long-simmering dispute with the Moreharts arose over the discrepancy between what the modern-day agricultural zoning allows at Naples -- about five homes, or one for every 100 acres -- and what the family claims,based on an 1888 subdivision map. A century ago, surveyors and speculators drew up hundreds of small lots for a city called Naples-by-the-Sea. It exists only on paper today.

 The county originally recognized the old map as valid and tried unsuccessfully to force the Moreharts to merge the substandard lots to comply with modern zoning. In 1994, however, the state Supreme Court ruled in the Moreharts' favor. The county subsequently agreed to recognize 233 legal lots at Naples.

 By all accounts, Supervisor Gail Marshall, who represents western Goleta and the Gaviota coast, played a key role in establishing a basis for the present settlement proposal. In an interview Tuesday, Marshall said she told Osgood that, at a minimum, no homes must be built south of Highway 101, and that all homes on the north side must be screened from public view.

"I would say that the preservation of all the property south of the highway is worth listening to," Marshall said. "I'm willing to have an open mind.I don't want to see any development on the coast, but the reality is that Naples is a very different situation. It has 233 recognized lots. If the community says, 'No way,' then we'll say, 'No way.' But then we'll be fighting it lot by lot, and it's anybody's guess what we would end up with."

The Surfrider Foundation is one conservationist group that opposes any development on the Gaviota coast. Keith Zandona, chairman of the local chapter, said 88 homes at Naples would open the door to urbanization westward from Goleta.

 "This is a very, very big impact," he said. "Those houses will be in prominent locations for views and will be very obvious on the ridgelines. Once you start running the sewer lines up there, there's no stopping it on the rest of the coast. "It's too much of a backdoor deal for me. The public hasn't been involved at all."

 The proposal, if approved by the board, would not guarantee the approval of 88 homes at Naples. But the developer would have the right to apply for them. The plan, Lloyd said, is to create a rural setting north of the highway, with the homes set well back from the highway and dispersed among pastures and orchards. Only a third of the total acreage north of the highway would actually be built on, he said.

that clean water issues are respected and sensitive habitats will be preserved. "Whatever we do," Lloyd said, "there's going to be a keen sense What's fundamental in our concept is not to induce an urban environment.We've thought long and hard about this."

If the board does not approve the settlement, Lloyd said, the Moreharts eventually could wind up with the right to build many more homes than 88 at Naples, on both sides of the freeway.

 County officials said Tuesday that Naples was an exception to the rule.After losing to the Moreharts in court five years ago, the county announced the antiquated maps were no longer valid. These old maps cover significant portions of the Santa Ynez Valley. In a case involving a ranch in the valley,the Santa Barbara Superior Court recently upheld the county's determination that the antiquated maps did not create legal lots.

 And that is why the proposed development at Naples is unique, said Chief Deputy County Counsel Alan Seltzer.

 "This is not the beginning of a march west on the Gaviota coast,"he said. "Naples can't be replicated elsewhere."