Get to the Choppa…

By J'Amy Brown   |   July 4, 2019

Q. What’s the buzz on privately-owned helicopters landing on private pads inside our community – legal or not? 

That high-flying question got grounded! On June 26, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission was set to hear a permit application for a proposed private property helistop at Carpinteria Valley Farms on Lambert Road – and it seems to have started a dogfight! 

Over 170 chopper-related comments flew in at the last minute, stalling the Commission’s planned flightpath to a hearing. The response was so substantial the applicant, Pat Nesbitt, made a plea to the Commission to delay the hearing so he could have appropriate time to review and respond to the copious comments. 

A majority of the letters, both pro and con, came from neighbors and neighborhoods nearby in Carpinteria, Padaro, and Summerland. Letters focused on noise, safety, human and animal impacts. However, it didn’t escape the minds of some citizens that this case could be precedent-setting, perhaps carving a path to the proliferation of local private helicopter transportation use. 

While there are numerous rumors flying around about private helicopters spinning wealthy one-percenters in and out of Montecito and Carpinteria, that fact could not be substantiated by the county or Montecito Fire. Neither agency could identify any permitted private heliports/ helistops in the south county zone district. 

County Staff Planner Nereyda Harmon said as far as she was aware this is the first private helicopter landing site application to come forward in the south coast area. Generally, FAA defines heliport as a formalized helicopter landing area, while a helistop is a heliport with no fueling, support facilities. 

With much in the air, the county planning commissioners decided more time was required for full and fair review. First District Commissioner Michael Cooney moved to delay the hearing until September 25. The postponement was approved on a 4-1 vote, with only Chair John Parke opposing the reschedule, not keen on squandering the commission’s industrious preparation for the hearing at hand. 

In the meantime, Harmon said if private helicopters are currently docking on private property in the south county’s unincorporated area that could constitute a zoning violation. A complaint or concern can be filed with the County’s Zoning Enforcement Hotline at 805-568-3558, in person at a Planning and Development office, or online at 

Because helicopter landings and departures might be difficult for staff to observe real time, a documented, dated video or photo may help to substantiate the activity. When filing a complaint, you must give your name (normally kept confidential) and the address or parcel number where the unpermitted activity occurred.

Q. Will the Montecito section of the 101 widening project be starting soon? I saw an ad in the Journal noticing a Montecito Board of Architectural Review on the 101 on July 11.

After decades of squabbling, it looks like the 101 widening is finally rolling toward reality inside Montecito’s boundaries! With the environmental process complete and approved, the project’s design phase is beginning! The first Montecito design hearing scheduled for Thursday, July 11, at 1PM at MBAR, 123 East Anapamu. 

Fred Luna, Santa Barbara County’s Association of Governments’ Transportation Engineer, said if things go as planned we might actually see spade-to-ground by the 2020-2021 fiscal year. He speculates this phase will take about four years to complete. 

While this part of the HOV Project will only put a tiny toe into Montecito, that little step will have a big footprint. The full project section runs from the City of Carpinteria through Ortega Ridge, terminating just inside Montecito, 0.3 miles north of Sheffield. In addition to adding a HOV lane, the project involves rebuilding the Sheffield interchange, adding a new bridge and moving around 161,134 cubic yards of cut and 106,918 cubic yards of fill.

Luna said the July 11 MBAR conceptual hearing is the first bite at the design of this project, but he said there will be other public meeting bites to come. While the Montecito Association got a “sneak peek” on July 2, Luna said MBAR’s rollout will focus on “the look, the aesthetics and the landscaping.” Eventually the project will wind its way for permit approval to the County Planning Commission, who handles all transportation issues. It might, however stop at the Montecito Planning Commission for a courtesy review. 

MBAR will be limited to design details like wall texture, lighting, signage and plantings. The project’s fundamental hardscape was settled by the long, arduous and often combative environmental review – that concluded in a courtroom. That means at this MBAR hearing things like off ramps, lanes, sound wall placement are not up for debate – those issues are settled. The San Ysidro Roundabout concept is also not under discussion at this meeting. It will be reviewed under a separate hearing under a different permitting process.

But be forewarned, this is a good time to make your voice heard. The county’s public meeting announcement counsels: “If you challenge this project in court you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised at the public hearing described in this notice…(MBAR July 11, 2019).” Comments can be made in person at MBAR or by written comments to Planning and Development planner Nicole Lieu at Her phone is 805-884-8068. Maps and staff analysis of the proposal may be reviewed a week ahead of the hearing, July 5, at Planning and Development offices at 123 Anapamu. 

Hopefully, with ample community input and thoughtful decision-makers who listen to the public, this important “entry to Montecito” will be designed with special attention to our community character. Special consideration needs to be given to our spectacular views and reflective of our history. This is an important corridor and, after waiting decades, the aesthetic glass slipper needs to fit perfectly!


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