Residents ask to vote on proposed Price Canyon development

clambert@thetribunenews.comJanuary 16, 2013 

This view looking south shows a portion of Price Canyon in 2011 where 961 acres could eventually be annexed into Pismo Beach and developed.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Some South County residents want a say on a large development proposed for the Price Canyon area north of Pismo Beach — and they aren’t referring to merely voicing their concerns at City Council meetings.

As a vote on the project draws closer, several people have urged the Pismo Beach City Council to allow residents to weigh in on whether they want to see 961 acres of land developed with hundreds of homes, a hotel and conference center and a nine-hole golf course.

“Pismo Beach hasn’t seen a project of this magnitude ever,” said Dave Cowie, who lives in the city. “It seems like it would be the perfect time to give an opportunity to the voters and see how the constituents feel about it.”

The Spanish Springs project includes residential homes, senior housing, a 150-room hotel, vineyards, numerous public parks and trails on several properties east of Price Canyon Road.

The council on Tuesday held the first of two public hearings to consider a host of documents that would guide development in the Price Canyon area. The council listened to a lengthy presentation about the proposal, took public comments and continued the hearing to Feb. 5, when it is expected to vote on the project.

Even if approved, the properties would still have to be annexed into Pismo Beach before being developed. That decision would be made by the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission, a separate board comprised of local city and county officials.

About 75 people attended Tuesday’s council meeting. Of the 19 people who spoke, about a dozen either expressed concerns about various parts of the project, or vehement opposition to it.

Five people specifically asked the council to survey residents or let them vote on the project. The council also received two letters with the same request.

The council didn’t respond to that request Tuesday, but if they wanted to, council members could call for an advisory vote on the project during a regular election — an unlikely alternative, since the next general election isn’t until November 2014.

If the council approves an ordinance for one of the documents connected to the project — a development agreement — residents will then have 30 days to gather signatures for a referendum, which would require the City Council to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot.

Proponents would need to get signatures from 10 percent of the city’s 5,577 registered voters, said City Clerk Elaina Cano.

Other concerns

Several other residents who spoke Tuesday mentioned concerns about traffic — particularly the impact to the neighborhood around Highland Drive, which would become a main access road to the lower part of the proposed development — as well as water availability and safety.

“What about the people who live on Ventana and live on Highland and how the traffic is really going to change our quiet neighborhood,” said Andy Weber, who has lived in that area of Pismo Beach for nine years. “You look out one side, you see the ocean; you look out the back and see the cows. We don’t want to see that get destroyed.”

Jon Biggs, the city’s community development director, said traffic models show that Highland Drive won’t be adversely affected by additional drivers heading to and from the new development.

“There will be a free, unobstructed flow, even with the project,” he said. “People aren’t going to experience a delay on Highland Drive.”

An attorney for the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia chapter also sent a letter to the council, asserting the project’s environmental documents have not adequately analyzed the amount of water available, or the air quality and traffic impacts.

Those in support of the project, including a few local residents, a sales director for a local hotel and a San Luis Obispo real estate agent, urged the city to plan for its future growth and provide opportunities to attract more tourists and revenue.

“The reality is there’s simply not a lot of area to develop in our county, specifically in Pismo Beach,” said Chris Richardson of Richardson Properties, who said Spanish Springs will provide capital improvements, financial benefits and housing. “You need to plan for future growth.”

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