A battle over water and sewer services for potentially hundreds of new Lompoc homes is being waged between the developers of a proposed subdivision and representatives of a nearby neighborhood utility provider.
Developers of the Burton Ranch housing community, which was initially approved by the Lompoc City Council in 2006, requested and received a second five-year extension on a development agreement with the city during the City Council's April 16 meeting. That extension, approved unanimously, faced some key opposition, however.
Leaders of the Mission Hills Community Services District submitted a six-page letter to the City Council — and individual members addressed the governing body in person on April 16 — to raise concerns with several aspects of the planned development. The main sticking point for the Mission Hills officials and the developers appears to center on the costs associated with water and sewer services for the project, which could bring up to 476 new homes to a 150-acre swath of city land off Highway 1 north of Hancock College’s Lompoc Valley Center.
Jon Martin, one of the three developers for the project, was among those who personally addressed the City Council on April 16. He noted that the project’s stalled timeline wasn’t due to lack of interest — he cited the recession of the previous decade and “many other complicating factors” — and said that the developers were “anxious to move forward.”
“The last remaining hurdle, as we see it, is the delivery of water and sewer services for Burton Ranch,” Martin said. “If it weren’t for that, we’re ready to go.”
Where's the water?
The extension, which also was supported in March by the Lompoc Planning Commission, prolongs the development agreement with the city to May 31, 2024. The prior agreement for the project, which is unrelated to the nearby Purisima Hills development east of the Wye intersection of Highway 1 and Harris Grade Road, was set to expire at the end of this May.
The developers had also previously reached an agreement with the Mission Hills Community Services District for water and sewer services. That agreement has since expired, however, and the two sides haven’t been able to reach a new one.
One of the main points of contention involves the costs that would be paid by the developers. Under the previous agreement with the Mission Hills Community Services District, the developers were set to provide significant upfront funds that would be used to help with infrastructure upgrades to the Mission Hills system, and in return they would have received credits to offset connection and other fees for the homes.
Steve Dietrich, one of the Mission Hills Community Services District board members, said at the April 16 City Council meeting that he felt maintaining those terms could amount to a gift of public funds and suggested that doing so was fiscally irresponsible for a government agency.
Martin said this week that the group of developers, which also includes The Towbes Group and MJ Land Company, considers the Mission Hills Community Services District to be the project’s biggest obstacle.
“The Mission Hills CSD wants to serve the project, but the multimillion-dollar, upfront system infrastructure cost that is expected to be built and paid for by us developers, then given to Mission Hills so that they have the capacity to serve the project, is the single impediment to getting the housing built,” he said. “Once this issue is resolved, we are able to move forward.”
Without a current agreement in place with Mission Hills, the developers could seek to instead utilize city of Lompoc services for water and wastewater. Before any such agreement with the developers, though, the city would first need to hash out terms of an annexation agreement it has in place with the Mission Hills Community Services District. The land for the project was annexed by the city in 2007.
The Mission Hills letter, which was signed by Community Services District General Manager Loch Dreizler and Board President Walt Fasold, cautioned that further environmental studies would need to be performed, or re-performed, if the city were to allow the project’s plans to be substantially altered.
Martin said he and the developers were “disappointed” by the letter.
“We were obviously disappointed that a service district that wants our future homeowners as their customers would submit a six-page threatening letter to the City Council,” he said. “We simply want water and sewer service for our future customers that is both financially affordable and environmentally sound.”
The approved extension does not include any major changes, other than the timeline, to the development agreement reached between the city and the developers, according to city staff.
The Mission Hills Community Service District leaders had recommended that the City Council hold off on approving the five-year extension and instead grant a 45-day extension to allow for the resolution of issues it raised regarding environmental and other impacts.
“I think our community works together when we have a great exchange between our government and our people,” Dietrich said at the April 16 City Council meeting. “And I think we’ve missed it on this.”
The developers maintain that reaching a reasonable agreement for water and wastewater services is the only current hold-up for the project, which would include a mix of single- and multi-family homes that would vary in size and price.
It is expected that all parties will continue discussions regarding the project, which could help with Lompoc's oft-cited housing shortage.
“We are moving forward and we are in a better spot than we were previously,” Derek Hansen, a representative of The Towbes Group, told the Lompoc City Council on April 16. “Certainly the negotiations that we’ve been going through in regards to water and sewer, they are another trial and tribulation that we will work our way through and we will make this happen. Our goal is to bring homes to Lompoc.”
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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