University of California, Santa Barbara, officials proposed building 200 dorm rooms a little too close to wetlands, the California Coastal Commission had decided. The commission approved the student housing but ordered the university to keep the planned construction at least 100 feet from a slough, coastal pools and other wetlands. The decision requires a major redesign of the San Rafael housing addition and will delay the project by a year, according to Tye Simpson, UCSB director of physical and environmental planning. University officials had hoped to have the dormitories ready for students in the fall of 2000. The UCSB proposal called for 200 dorm rooms in 18 buildings to house a total of 800 students. Housing is at a premium at the 20,000-student campus and in the neighboring unincorporated community of Isla Vista. University officials have agreed to build more housing, and the 10-acre site for the San Rafael addition is the last place on campus designated for housing by UCSB's Long-Range Development Plan, Simpson said. The San Rafael project is intended to house existing numbers of students, not additional UCSB students, he added. However, UCSB planners and the Coastal Commission differed over how best to protect natural resources. The university proposed a resource management approach that would have enhanced more valuable wetlands elsewhere, while the Coastal Commission took more of a preservationist approach, Simpson explained. Steve Hudson, a coastal program analyst for the commission, said the Coastal Act mandates protection of wetlands in general. Everyone involved agrees the wetlands involved are not pristine, but "even small and degraded wetlands serve an important environmental component," he said. Furthermore, UCSB's own Long-Range Development Plan โ€” which the Coastal Commission approved in 1990 โ€” requires a 100-foot buffer, Hudson noted. University planners had proposed buildings within 60 feet of wetlands, with grading even closer to the sensitive areas. Placing 800 students so close to the wetlands and to habitat for three rare plant species found on-site is bound to have an impact, but the revised project should offset those effects, Hudson said. While voting 9-1 in June to approve the dormitories, the Coastal Commission also required UCSB to provide better public access to a bluff and beach bordering the campus. The Coastal Commission decision may provide ammunition to environmental groups concerned about UCSB plans to build 500 faculty houses near a slough and nature preserve elsewhere on campus. The university has not officially filed those plans with the Coastal Commission yet, Hudson said. Contacts: Tye Simpson, University of California, Santa Barbara, planning director, (805) 893-8388. Steve Hudson, Coastal Commission analyst, (805) 641-0142.