Archive » December 24, 2008
By Lansing Duncan, Contributing Writer
Gateways and greenbelts are valley treasures
First-time visitors to the Santa Ynez Valley who drive north over San Marcos Pass are typically awestruck with the view that confronts them.
Although they have just left the coastal splendor of Santa Barbara, they can’t help but feel they have arrived in an area of unspoiled natural beauty nestled between the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountains.
For valley residents this gateway is not only scenic, but also reassuringly familiar.
We are fortunate to have beautiful gateways and greenbelts, but they should not be taken for granted.
The cheek-to-jowl development of the San Fernando Valley, where the edge of one community cannot be distinguished from the beginning of another, serves as a graphic example of what can happen if this is left to chance.
An important element of the San Marcos Pass gateway is the amazing Cold Spring Bridge.
But it will change if Caltrans follows through with plans to erect suicide barriers.
We already have seen the agrarian views of fields and livestock on Rancho San Marcos replaced by the artificial greens of the golf course, white sand bunkers, jaunty golf carts and sportily dressed golfers.
Approaching the township of Santa Ynez from the east, one encounters ranch and winery development and the airport prior to reaching residential areas.
The Airport Authority proposes to construct a 700-foot-long, 25-foot-high wall of hangers atop its mesa site.
This will be dramatically visible from Highway 246 and Highway 154. Additionally, if the existing zoning in this area remains unchanged, scores of new, five-acre ranchettes and an industrial park may herald the eastern entrance to the township.
The Chumash Casino and the accompanying traffic lights at the entry and Edison Street have substantially urbanized this stretch of Highway 246. Although new landscaping in this area has helped, the section of the highway between Santa Ynez and Solvang increasingly has become developed and congested.
At the edge of Solvang, one encounters at the Alamo Pintado intersection, which would be indistinguishable from the rest of this corridor if it were not buffered by a scenic stretch of dense oak woodland and a steep descent.
The western edge of Solvang is marked by a similar elevation change and a transition to agricultural fields once the industrial fringe of the community is left behind.
The greenbelt one encounters along Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton is an essential buffering element that separates the two communities and allows views of agriculture and the mountains.
Even here there is increased commercial development, lighting and signage.
The Alamo Pintado corridor that connects Solvang with Ballard and Los Olivos serves a similar function, but new signage, lighting, fencing and gating is changing this area.
If we are to preserve our distinct townships with their unique characters and articulated boundaries, they need to be separated by less developed agricultural greenbelts that retain a rural flavor.
Many drivers enter the valley from the 101 freeway heading north or south. Although the view north from the crest of the Nojoqui grade remains rural, the intersection of the 101 and Highway 246 in Buellton has become a major gateway to the valley’s communities.
Unfortunately, Buellton’s rapid growth and commercialization have not made this intersection particularly inviting. From the north, the new intersection of the 101 and Highway 154, west of Los Olivos, has now become the northern gateway to our community.
Commercial businesses and Caltrans however, have decided it is an opportune location for signage and storage.
Although the silhouette of Mattei’s Tavern and its water tank has historically marked the western edge of Los Olivos, this view also is threatened with change.
The new owner of Mattei’s and the property to the west proposes to turn the historic stage stop into a 70-room destination resort.
The current proposal shows dozens of structures on the property and a large parking lot dominating the western highway frontage.
As noted in this brief overview, the gateways and greenbelts of the valley are critical elements that contribute to the character of our community. Incremental changes over time can irreversibly erode this character.
If our “home” is to remain both attractive to visitors and comfortable to residents, it is essential we value these assets.
The valley community plan and residents need to proactively protect these resources.