As a developer plans for 59 homes, residents say they want smart, responsible growth
Los Alamos, a small town in Santa Barbara County, is considered by many to be a real-life version of the fictional Mayberry of “The Andy Griffith Show” of the 1960s.
While many developers look at the wide open spaces as a perfect place to build, many residents are wary of growth for fear of losing the small town charm that many cherish.
Several residents expressed that they aren’t against growth per se, but they want to see smart growth.
“I, like many in town who have been expressing opinions, don’t mind growth. It’s how it grows,” Los Alamos resident Seth Steiner told the News-Press. “We want to see smart decisions made. It’s unwise decisions that we would like to see not happen over and over. There are so many ways to develop.”
Another Los Alamos resident, Christine Burke, told the News-Press that she would like her town to grow responsibly.
“Los Alamos isn’t taken care of well infrastructure-wise,” she said. “The center of town floods, and there are homes with water damage. We don’t even have postal service. Everyone pays for a post office box.
“Post office hours have been cut back for the post office, due to lack of staffing and there have been tons of break-ins to the post office as well as mail stolen,” Ms. Burke said. “Schools are at capacity and are unsafe for children. Highway 154 closes during almost every rain.”
A proposed 59-unit development of single-family homes for Los Alamos is planned for the base of Purisima Hills, which Ms. Burke said is in a FEMA flood zone.
“Before we add new residences, we need to be brought up to speed,” she said as she continued to discuss infrastructure needs. “Sixty new homes means a couple hundred more people. It needs to be done responsibly.”
She emphasized that what the community primarily wanted is a new Environmental Impact Report. The current EIR is 18 years old.
However, Ms. Burke said, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors did not call for a new EIR, which was partially due to procedural errors,
The planned single-family home project is called Village Square by Legacy Homes.
The floor plans for the homes range in size from 1,850 to 2,559 square feet.
“Each home will have at a minimum a two-car garage. Many will have a three car garage along with driveways to accommodate parking,” Frances Romero, the senior planner for TW Land Planning & Development, LLC working with Legacy Estates, told the News-Press.
“The public streets in this subdivision will be built to county standards, unlike the majority of public streets in Los Alamos,” Ms. Romero said. “Each street will include two full width travel lanes plus shoulders to accommodate on-street parking that does not interfere with the travel lanes.”
The News-Press addressed the issue of whether all units will be receiving water. “A Service Availability letter has been provided by the Los Alamos Community Services District dated 1/25/23. The Service Availability letter applies to the entire 59-unit map,” Ms. Romero told the News-Press.
The project site is in the southwest corner of Los Alamos in the West of Den Street and south of Coiner Street, according to the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department. The county discusses the project at countyofsb.org/3714/Village-Square-Legacy-Estates-Tract-Grad.
“The map was approved in 2005 and recorded in December 2022. The project is already approved,” Ms. Romero said.
Grading for the project will commence once the weather clears and the water table recedes, according to Ms. Romero.
“In addition to $41,477 in traffic mitigation fees, it should be noted that the roads in Los Alamos function at a Level of Service A. The community is only at 51% of the buildout envisioned by the 2011 Los Alamos Community Plan,” said Ms. Romero.
She discussed water and sewage. “Connection fees in the amount $1,216,167 will be paid to the Los Alamos Community Services District that can be used to implement capital projects to benefit the entire community. Regional drainage infrastructure will be built by the Village Square project at a cost of $2.4 million. While the project only needs 15% of the capacity provided by this improvement, the remaining 85% will benefit the Los Alamos community.
“County Flood Control has stated that there is currently no drainage infrastructure on the westside of Los Alamos or in central Los Alamos and that this project addresses the westside of Los Alamos,” Ms. Romero said.
The News-Press asked Ms. Romero about how the development will be made compatible with the rural identity of the town.
“The lots were based on a concept plan in the 1994 Los Alamos Community Plan that was developed by community residents,” she said. “The homes have been designed in a ranch style and size consistent with the surrounding neighborhoods. The project is surrounded by hundreds of acres of agriculturally zoned land to the south and west.”
Mr. Steiner said Los Alamos said residents are sensitive to what happened to Los Olivos, “when wine shops took over the businesses in town. In order to make sure that doesn’t happen, we need to have a say.
“We used to have a fairly effective say when the Los Alamos Planning Advisory Committee was still in existence,” he said.
He said the committee reached answers that influenced what happened in Los Alamos.
“We met when there was a proposed project that could affect most residents,” mr. Steiner said. “After everyone had their say and both sides were represented, the committee would vote, and it would have weight in deliberations of the planning commission and the Board of Supervisors.”
Los Alamos is currently unincorporated and as such is governed by Santa Barbara County, and Mr. Steiner noted 40 to 50% of the county is unincorporated.
“Incorporation is a big step, but we would be satisfied if we had something akin to a planning advisory committee at no additional cost,” said Mr. Steiner.
Residents talked to the News-Press about what drew them to Los Alamos.
“Before we moved here, my husband and I came from Los Angeles and spent many weekends here. We love the tight-knit community,” Ms. Burke said. “About four years ago, we purchased a home and lived here part time. When COVID hit, we moved up here full time.”
“After selling my business, I had planned to settle with my wife north of Manhattan,” Mr. Steiner said. “A friend of mine living in Solvang at the time invited us out to California. We came out in 2007, and we were so taken by a home in Los Alamos that we changed plans and moved out here.
“We liked the climate and the small town nature of Los Alamos. The charm, scruffiness, rural nature and the very welcoming, friendly people. We love the tenor of the place and the fact that there is not much traffic or much traffic on the 101 highway. It was an easy decision.”
Los Alamos is represented on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors by 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson.
“I know and understand the concerns of the neighborhood and Los Alamos, I have been hearing that loud and clear for the last two months,” Supervisor Bob Nelson said at the Feb. 28 Board of Supervisors meeting. “I have honestly worked hard over the last couple months to find a mechanism to get what you have asked for. I have worked with staff over and over again not just to evaluate the merits of the claims of the developer but to look at other ways that we can improve this project inside of a discretionary process and even outside a discretionary process.
“After going through many, many letters from attorneys and comments, working with staff and county council, I don’t see a mechanism for the board to vote, at least for myself to deny this agreement,” he said. He noted the agreement with the county covers part of the project, but it is not the entire project.
Supervisor Nelson said he would like to explore options for FEMA mitigation grants to complement a flood control project to alleviate residents’ concerns.
Mr. Steiner said residents bought homes in Los Alamos because of the community’s current nature.
“It is not fair to existing residents to change the nature of the town, reducing the value of investment and lifestyle we came here for,” he said. “However, empty lots are asking to be developed wisely with a voice from the townsfolk.”