By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort in Solvang has proposed adding 40 glamorous camping units, a plan that could involve several hurdles such as annexing land into the city and overcoming a previous effort to limit growth.
The resort, which sits inside the city limits, wants to annex about 10 acres adjacent to its current land to add glamping units, or outdoor camping with amenities such as full restrooms.
The proposed addition to the city’s boundaries may be a bit bigger to include existing employee housing and accessory structures.
The presentation during the Oct. 25 meeting of the Solvang City Council involved a conceptual review of the proposal before the council’s unanimous vote to direct staff to work with the applicant to iron out details.
“I think it’s worth exploring, seeing as how it gets harder and harder to make a living as a farmer,” Councilwoman Claudia Orona said.
Councilman Robert Clarke noted the benefits that Alisal has brought to Solvang through the years in transient occupancy tax revenue.
“Solvang needs the Alisal Ranch more than the Alisal Ranch needs Solvang because you guys have a been a gold mine for the city,” Clarke said. “It’s your property. You already own it. It’s surrounded by the rest of your property.”
Alisal’s owners and managers said they looked to the future and recognized the need for additional rentals and a need to be looking at delivering the experience that millennials want.
“The idea of this is to take the existing operation and to expand to give us the capacity that we presently don’t have because we’ve maximized our utilization,” said C.J. Jackson, representing the Alisal owners. “This is not an attempt to expand out. It is an attempt to attract a complimentary market segment.”
Annexed land would continue to be zoned for agricultural with a guest ranch overlay to match the existing Alisal site.
Steve Fort, senior planner with Suzanne Elledge Planning and Permitting Services, said they anticipate needing an amendment to the existing conditional use permit, design review, General Plan and zoning amendments and more.
The land annexation hurdle would require negotiations with Santa Barbara County regarding the loss of tax revenue and would need approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission.
In addition to the glamping units for guests, the concept proposes reception, dining, saloon and parking areas.
The applicant would have to deal with Solvang’s urban growth boundary, adopted in June 2020 by a prior City Council. Urban growth boundaries typically require voters to approve changes to a city’s boundaries.
“We’re aware that the growth boundary does allow for annexation of ag-zoned lands and continued ag uses and that those types of uses are consistent with the urban growth boundary,” Fort said.
City Attorney Dave Fleishman, who did not work for the city when the prior council approved the urban growth boundary, said the fact that the land is zoned for ag use and would retain that after annexation may not trigger the urban growth boundary requirement for voters to approve or deny the addition to the city.
“I don’t think it necessarily requires a vote of the people. Certainly it is consistent with the express language,” Fleishman said, adding that he would research the issue further if the council directed staff to pursue the issue.
Clarke, the only council member from the previous panel, said he voted for the urban growth boundary to protect farmland from becoming apartments at the entrance to the city.
“I didn’t want to see a Trump Tower at the bottom of the hill. That name was floating around,” Clarke said.
If the annexation of the land into the city doesn’t succeed, another option would involve seeking a conditional use permit from Santa Barbara County, Fort said, adding that Alisal still would need to negotiate for purchasing water and wastewater services from Solvang.
Alisal leaders estimated that the project could generate about $700,000 a year in transient occupancy tax.