Planners need to consider all uses for barn

The restored Octagon Barn on South Higuera Street is an architectural delight and a historic treasure. We applaud The Land Conservancy, which undertook the restoration, along with the hundreds of volunteers and the many donors whose contributions and hard work rescued the aging structure from ruin.

We agree that as many people as possible should have the opportunity to explore this landmark. To that end, we believe the Land Conservancy’s plan for the site is a good one: It wants to open the barn — along with an auxiliary milking parlor that’s in the process of being restored — to the public for tours, classes and the like.

It’s also proposing to hold a limited number of larger special events, such as weddings, concerts and nonprofit fundraisers, at the site. Rental of the facilities would pay for ongoing operations and maintenance. That makes sense from an economic standpoint.

If that were the extent of the use, we would have no problem supporting the application for a special use permit, to be heard by the county Planning Commission on Thursday.

However, the site is also the proposed location of a trailhead for a leg of the county’s Bob Jones City to Sea Trail. We’re not convinced that project, as currently proposed, will support such heavy use.

We base this, in large part, on the tremendous popularity of the Bob Jones Trail. The staging area on Ontario Road is often so packed with cars that drivers wind up parking along the side of the road.

We have every reason to believe the portion of the trail starting at the Octagon Barn would also get heavy use. And if you superimpose wedding or concert traffic on top of that, it could become alogistical mess from atraffic and circulation standpoint. Nor are we convinced that the proposed amenities — 112 parking spaces and six restrooms — will be adequate.

It might be easier to get ahandle on the logistics if there were more information available on the trailhead portion of the project. But because the Bob Jones Trail is a county project, it’s not considered in the Land Conservancy’s application.

Instead, it’s being handled as a separate project covered in an environmental impact report on the proposed trail extension. That report is due to be released in mid-summer. Much as we support both projects — the Octagon Barn and the trailhead — we believe there are too many unknowns at this point. Before the Planning Commission approves a permit for the Octagon Barn, it should have a clear picture of the maximum level of use that will occur when the Bob Jones Trail extension is open. If that requires waiting until the environmental impact report is complete, we urge it to do so.