Op-Ed: El Capitan Canyon Resort Eyes Large Expansion

New construction in Gaviota as part of the El Capitan Canyon campground expansion. (Photo: Gaviota Coast Conservancy)

By Keep Goleta the Goodland

There is a new development on the Gaviota Coast you may have noticed recently at the El Capitan northbound off ramp.

The new owners at El Capitan Canyon Resort are trying to move forward with a huge expansion, even though their building permit expired in 2013. This will be visible from the freeway as you can already see, forever changing the rural character of the coast. Please send a letter to the planning commission asking them to enforce the rules that they have passed. Don’t let this big corporation, Sun Communities, push them around.

The Planning Commission hearing will be held on Wednesday, February 28th at the County of Santa Barbara Engineering Building, Room 17, 123 East Anapamu Street. To participate by zoom, please register in advance for the webinar at: https://countyofsb.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-JkZEmGZRpOlMWTdTlYu3Q#/registration.  The hearing starts at 9AM and the El Capitan item is 2nd on the agenda, so will likely be heard at or after 10AM.

Materials for the hearing including the Staff Report and Project Plans are available here:  https://cosantabarbara.app.box.com/s/q97rv82305oyfnbdjhcyxrrdhu3dgkqy/folder/249980427735

The County Planning Commission will consider the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s (GCC) appeal of the project, “Area F1-F2.” This project includes two development areas that are squarely within the Critical Viewshed Corridor Overlay (CVCO) that the Gaviota Coast Plan established to protect nearfield views of the mountains and ocean from Highway 101. It includes 22 “RV Cabins”, 17 yurts, a 1,200 square-foot campground support building, an 1,800 square-foot camper services building, a 2,700 square-foot camper services barn, and a 592 square-foot comfort station, 2 swimming pools, new roadway infrastructure, and new night lighting. GCC stated if this project is built, it would “represent the most significant visual change to the Gaviota Coast viewshed in decades.”

Map of Area F1 and F2 as part of the El Capitan Canyon Resort project (courtesy)

The Area F1-F2 Expansion Project was partially approved back in 2010.  The Resort’s prior owner never completed the Central Board of Architectural Review (CBAR) process however, and the Coastal Development Permit (CDP) that was issued in 2011 expired in 2013 by operation of the County’s Coastal Zoning Ordinance.  Now the Resort’s new owner, SUN Communities, Inc., has tried to resurrect this Project without applying for a new CDP.  This move would enable them to skirt compliance with the Gaviota Coast Plan, which took effect in 2018, including heightened protections applicable within the CVCO.

Project Plans, Area F1, for El Capitan Canyon Resort (courtesy)
Project Plans, Area F2, for El Capitan Canyon Resort (courtesy)

GCC’s appeal centers on the Central Board of Architectural Review preliminary approval of the Project, and raises the following issues:

• CBAR’s approval was flawed and incomplete for failing to include the 22 “RV Cabins” in its review process. These luxury accommodations remain fixed on the landscape and are for all intents and purposes “structures” that require CBAR review.
• There is no valid CDP underpinning CBAR’s approval. The CDP issued in 2011 expired under the clear terms of the County’s ordinance in 2013, and accordingly, a new CDP is required and must comply with the Gaviota Coast Plan.
• According to the Gaviota Coast Plan’s heightened protections within the CVCO, all “development” must be reviewed by CBAR under the Site Design Hierarchy and Design Guidelines that apply to this highly visible project.
• Allowing the Project to proceed with an expired permit, reviewed under pre-Gaviota Coast Plan standards, is contrary to the County’s ordinance and would undermine public trust in the planning process.

We encourage community members to voice their concerns on Wednesday, February 28.

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the author’s.

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    • Not even close. El Cap is an entirely unique property on the Gaviota Coast. No other area has functioned as a private campground in that way. The obstacles to doing anything like that project are massive and close to insurmountable.

  1. I live up here and I am all for it.
    The Sun Company have been great new neighbors. What they want to do is take advantage of the ocean views a bit more for weddings and a few cottages. More people would actually be able to spend some time and even overnight on the Gaviota Coast. It is set back and will not mar the view, IMHO and I live here.
    If anything, it would give a few more people the opportunity city to come sleep with the ocean view. That includes you, dear reader.
    They are also bringing jobs for people to work on one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
    I live here and I say, relax. Enjoy the finished product. It is not going to destroy anything.
    P.S. When the oil spill happened a few years ago, people FREAKED and said it would be “destroyed forever!” Within a very short time everything is back to normal.
    Stop panicking

    • It sounds like a marketing term that straddles two opposing ideas: permanence and mobility. I haven’t seen with my own eyes what this is, but I’m guessing it’s just an RV parked in a nice spot with a smattering of landscaping and rustic furniture nearby. A deep dive into any available tax breaks might explain it.

  2. Sorry…I vote no more development to our beautiful coast. The environment can only handle so many people, buildings, cars, etc. before the environment begins to show signs of degradation…that is, starts to fall apart, as in, disappear.

    Let the Glampers go somewhere else…..

  3. The entire state, no, the entire country could use more campgrounds, recreation areas. This is NOT that. It’s for a few rich folks, period. How does this help the Gaviota coast?…it doesn’t, it benefits SUN Communities Co. coffers.

  4. Part of the article:

    “The Gaviota Coast Conservancy appealed the project and challenged the validity of a 2010 coastal development permit. In its appeal to the Planning Commission, the group argues that the campsites proposed to be relocated don’t physically exist.

    “Rather, the 22 RV cabins and 17 yurts are a physical expansion of the campground, spanning two distinct areas of the largely vacant agricultural parcel immediately east of the developed El Capitan Canyon Resort,” Ana Citrin, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s legal and policy director, wrote to the commission.

    Beth Collins, a land use lawyer for El Capitan Canyon Campground, asked the commission for a continuance because of a letter submitted by Roger Himovitz, the campground’s previous owner.

    “The letter was submitted in part because it came to our attention that there’s been a lot of misinformation that’s been spread about this project and the history of this project and what we’re doing today,” Collins said. “I think it’s a good idea to postpone so everyone can hear everything in one hearing.”

    In his letter, Himovitz argued that the issue of whether the campground can pursue uses and structures in the intended area has been “repeatedly resolved” since 2004 when the county Planning & Development Department found that the campground’s RVs were exempt from planning and building permits.

    Himovitz wrote that the Planning & Development Department reconfirmed that in 2009, 2016 and 2018. Himovitz also wrote that there is no resource validating the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s claim that the coastal development permit expired in 2013.

    “The Himovitz letter presents something of a conundrum,” Citrin told the commission. “We feel that coming back and being able to make a cohesive presentation, taking into account all the information that has been submitted, will benefit the commission, the public and the applicant, but I think that is the best way to proceed.”

    The Gaviota Coast Conservancy agreed to the continuance, and the commission rescheduled the appeal hearing to April 10.”

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