Lompoc recreational field owner seeking permits

Santa Maria Times, September 12, 2013 12:15 am  • 

James Mosby’s field of dreams in Lompoc has slowly deteriorated into a nightmare. But he’s hoping for a happy ending.

The Lompoc man, who seven years ago built a practice soccer field for his daughter Amanda on land he owns near River Park, has encountered obstacles to creating youth recreation facilities.

Mosby is seeking to have the county zoning changed on two parcels, approximately 10 acres each, to a designation that would allow him to get a conditional use permit for them to be used for recreation. He said he is trying to get the county’s approval for a use that has been going on there for many years.

“I guess one of my mistakes is I shared with the public,” Mosby said, not really lamenting the fact that local youth enjoy his property.

Mosby, who is now on the county Parks Commission, built the field approximately seven years ago after his daughter broke an ankle at a youth soccer practice in town. Amanda is now in her senior year at Lompoc High School.

Local soccer coaches noticed the nicely groomed grass and asked Mosby if they could use the facilities.

A paintball park and remote control car race track also draw area children to the site. Before those facilities were built, he said kids were paintballing in the riverbed and running RC cars on busy streets.

Mosby said he probably loses $40,000 to $50,000 a year on the facilities. He charges a small fee to use the paintball park, an amount he says helps out on paying his insurance costs.

While youth soccer groups and clubs have hailed what has turned into a sports complex, and he has support from Lompoc City Administrator Laurel Barcelona, who in a letter to the commission said it would be an asset to the city, some Lompoc residents have complained about the facility.

Complaints range from improper use of the land, which is currently zoned 40-AG making the parcels non-conforming because of their small size, to claims that Mosby is illegally converting ag land into property used for a commercial business.

The Environmental Defense Center and Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) are opposed to Mosby’s application because it takes land out of agricultural use.

“Sets a bad precedent,” Ken Hough, executive director of SBCAN, said of converting farmland to other uses. “We’re not opposed to kids playing soccer.”

Although he is rightfully proud of his grass field, Mosby disputes the viability of the soils on his land for growing crops. He claims the property was zoned for light industrial use before it was changed to agriculture by the county in 1978.

The county prepared a draft mitigated negative declaration, which circulated for public comment for seven weeks from December 2012 through mid-February 2013, to assess the environmental impacts. The final mitigated negative declaration was issued by the county in August.

County Planning and Development Director Glenn Russell told the Planning Commission on Wednesday it was his decision — one which has drawn criticism — to allow children to continue to use the facilities while his department worked through the permitting process.

Hough and Nathan Alley, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Center, have begun working with Mosby to do an environmental assessment of the project. The project is scheduled to return to the Planning Commission on Nov. 13.

“No good deed goes unpunished. At no time was I ever out there trying destroy the environment as has been portrayed,” Mosby said.

County planning commissioners have expressed concerns over parking, traffic flow in and out of the facility and the availability of public restrooms. They also worried about adult supervision at the property.

Mosby said there haven’t been any traffic accidents since the property has been used for recreation. He said overflow parking areas have only been used a few times over the years. And when he expects larger crowds on weekends, he orders more portable toilets from a local business.

“I work for free. I'm out there all the time. People are on my property. I’m out there all the time. It’s my neck on the line,” he said, adding soccer matches each have three officials, while coaches and parents supervise the players.

Mosby said he will work with the county and environmental groups to get his property rezoned and get a conditional use permit.

“I felt I was doing a good deed and a service to the community,” he said. “I hate the word illegal, because I'm not trying to break the law.”