This is the time of year to celebrate our blessings, reflect on seasons passed, and look forward to seasons future. In doing so, I am reminded of the San Ramon Chapel in Sisquoc.
The Chapel is the first Historical Landmark granted in Santa Barbara County. The grounds include elaborate, though aged tombstones of recognizable community names that remind us of the history and legacy of families that founded the Santa Maria Valley.
The inside of the Chapel is small and intimate, with beige wooden wall panels and light blue trim. The church has the musty smell of years gone by and floorboards that creak.
Over 10 years ago, I was approached by the Committee to Preserve the San Ramon Chapel. They had encountered a snag with the property line and needed expert assistance in resolving the parcel boundary. It was discovered the property line ran directly down the middle of the Chapel caretaker’s residence, while the adjacent neighbor was looking to develop a well for a single-family residence on his adjacent, large ranch. Chapel officials were promptly notified by the county that their caretaker’s residence was not permitted and straddled the property line.
It is not uncommon in rural areas for property lines to be discovered through a land survey are not in the location originally thought. No problem, said the adjacent land owner, who was willing to give the small portion of his property to the Chapel to correct the mistake. He would gladly donate three-tenths of an acre of his several-hundred-acre parcel. The problem was with the county requirements to adjust the property boundary. Often, a lot line adjustment is a simple correction. The Subdivision Map Act provides a mechanism for situations like this to more easily and readily adjust boundaries between two parcels, so long as no new parcel is created.
However, in this instance the ranch property was also in the Agricultural Preserve program. Again, not unusual and a mechanism exists to exchange properties under contract to new owners so long as the overall boundaries of the contract remain intact.
However, in this case, because the property where the Chapel resides is zoned as a public cemetery and comprises less than two acres, it was not and could not be placed into an ag preserve contract.
In order to remove property from the ag preserve program one must initiate a 10-year process to get out of the program. The program taxes the property on agricultural use rather than on potential development.
Ready to close the Chapel doors and board up the windows, I volunteered to assist.
Setting out to correct the situation took close to a year of coordination with various local and state agencies to jump through the hoops of abiding with various rules and regulations. In order to remove a portion of an existing ag preserve contract without going through a 10-year process, we had to appeal to the state and local government that this was in the public interest. We also had to file with the Planning and Development Department for a lot line adjustment that ultimately was recorded through the County Surveyor’s Office.
The application had to be reviewed by the Agricultural Preserve Committee, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in order to obtain final approval. Through hard work, dedication and perseverance a small portion of ag preserve land was removed for the betterment of the Chapel and the community as a whole. As a result, the Chapel continues to hold Catholic services every Sunday at 10:15 a.m. attended by generational families who still live in this valley.