In an effort to save money, time and forge ahead on campaign promises, Solvang City Council members opted to approve, rather than send to the polls, an ordinance limiting annexation for 20 years.
Council members voted 4-1 Monday night with Council Member Chris Djernaes dissenting, to adopt the Urban Growth Boundary Ordinance which will expire in December 2040.
Mayor Ryan Toussaint said that as much as citizens are opposed to urban sprawl, during various workshops and meetings held on the proposed limitation they also agree “the much needed capital infrastructure cost for the aging infrastructure the city has far exceeds our ability to pay for it.”
“This isn’t a time to be looking to push out to pay for it. This is a time to be developing from within,” Toussaint said.
The initiative amends the Solvang General Plan to establish an Urban Growth Boundary beyond which the city will not permit new “urban development,” with certain exceptions. The boundary is the existing city limits and does not affect county land use decisions.
During a series of hearings on annexation that occurred prior to the sitting council’s election, Toussaint said a study showed annexation would lead to “nothing but taking away some of the things we value most about this community and throwing down a bunch of homes and expanding our infrastructure which today, especially after economic damage of COVID, I really don’t think we have the capacity to be expanding services in some of these ways.”
Until Dec. 31, 2040, the Council may reduce the boundary “if such amendment is in the public interest,” “by an affirmative vote of the people,” or to comply with state or federal housing requirements. The council may also amend the boundary, following at least one public hearing, if the boundary taking a certain property “would be an unconstitutional taking for which compensation would be required.”
If there is no existing land available within the boundary, the council, following at least one public hearing, also could amend the boundary to include land for new construction of public schools, public services and facilities, including the wastewater treatment plant, if the land is immediately adjacent to existing compatibly developed areas.
To do so, there would have to be evidence the fire and police departments, department of public works and any water and sewer districts with jurisdiction have or will provide adequate capacity for the proposed development and provide it with adequate public services.
The city could also annex land zoned for agricultural use so long as it would remain in agricultural use. Annexation of land already developed in urban uses, such as industrial lands west of the city, would also be allowed.
The city was pushed to consider the initiative after a group of Solvang residents known as Save Our Solvang submitted a petition with 499 valid signatures. The group needed 10 percent of voters, 367 valid signatures, to place the proposal on the ballot.
By law, once presented, the council had 10 days to adopt the ordinance, place it on a ballot, or prepare a report before either adopting it or placing it on the ballot.
Council members noted making the decision on the dais would save taxpayers the cost of a ballot initiative that already appears to have voter support.
“I know that often change with preservation can be very difficult, and I think that this gives us the opportunity to maintain our quaintness without expansion,” Council Member Karen Waite said.
Mayor Pro Tem Robert Clarke said his only reservation in voting for the initiative was an appearance that the council had not been transparent as has been the allegation on other council actions in spite of workshops, public hearings and public comment periods.
“Everything we do creates an uproar. I just know it comes with the territory,” Clarke said.
Djernaes said he didn’t “know enough about the issue at this point and I don’t feel comfortable going forward with this.” He also took issue with the council not debating and continuing to discuss the proposal. He said he also didn’t want to constrain and restrict future councils.
In other action, the council voted 4-0 with Council Member Daniel Johnson recusing himself, to waive in lieu parking fees for the temporary expansion of Solvang Brewing Company into 10 of its parking spaces in the adjacent lot. City regulations would have required the company to pay $98,862 in fees for the expansion proposed to allow the facility to maintain business while providing customers the mandated social distancing requirements.
David Brents, owner of neighboring Succulent Cafe, expressed concern about potential noise levels and smoking. Solvang Brewing Company Vice President William Rodgers assured him and the council that smoking bans already in place in the dining room will extend throughout the expanded serving area, and any music would be acoustic.
The expanded dining area would be allowed until the city qualifies to enter phase four in the state’s COVID recovery plan.