Answers sought on 961-acre Price Canyon project

Questions abound on Spanish Springs project near Pismo Beach; some are calling for a public vote

clambert@thetribunenews.comMarch 6, 2013 

Pismo Beach City Council members this week asked critical questions about various parts of a project that would add hundreds of homes, hotel rooms and a golf course to Price Canyon.

What would the senior housing look like? How can the developer assure the project won’t cost the city money? How would Pismo Beach make use of recycled water produced by the project?

Council members asked so many questions that one speaker thanked them for “picking up every rock and looking underneath it.”

In the meantime, several speakers continued to urge the council put the proposal to the voters.

“If this is such a great project for Pismo Beach, put it to a vote of the people and let them decide,” said Michael Hannon, who lives outside the city limits in rural Arroyo Grande.

The council hasn’t yet voted on the Spanish Springs project, a development billed as a “rural hillside village” that includes 416 single-family homes, 73 apartments or condos, 120 seniors units, a 150-room hotel and 10,000-square-foot conference center, a nine-hole golf course, vineyards and parks.

The project would be constructed over 961 acres located east of Price Canyon Road and north of the city limits.

Discussion on the project was continued so city staff and consultants can further research traffic and financial impacts, and to give the developer more time to inform the public about his proposal.

A vote is expected to take place before June 30. After that — if the council approves several documents that would guide development in the area — the developer would need to get permits for an upgrade of Pismo’s wastewater treatment plant before the city could request the land be annexed.

That request would be considered by a separate local board, the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission.

“There’s a 20-year horizon before project would be completely built out,” Pismo Beach Community Development Director Jon Biggs told the council. “Having a higher permanent population will help support businesses in the community and goals such as revitalizing the downtown.”

The developer, Stephen Hester of West Coast Housing Partners, a Southern California-based land investment and development firm, said he’s made 31 changes to the site plan, including downsizing and relocating the senior housing units.

Still, many questions remain, and council members and residents spent time Tuesday night reviewing various issues.

Some people are worried about the size of the project and traffic impacts to Price Canyon Road, Highway 101 and residential streets.

Other issues include:

• The senior housing units. Councilman Erik Howell wants detailed information about the type of facility being proposed.

• Council members want more information on the developer’s plan to create a special tax for residential areas of the project to cover the difference between the city’s expenses and revenues generated by the project. It’s estimated that each parcel would pay about $400 a year to cover any shortfall.

• Mayor Shelly Higginbotham questioned whether the city could remove from its long-term planning documents a road that would stretch across former County Supervisor Howard Mankins’ land and connect the Spanish Springs to Oak Park Boulevard. Mankins and his family are staunchly opposed to the plan.

• The council questioned a lower development impact fee that Hester would pay to use state water for the project and improvements to the city’s water system. Hester will pay $3.5 million — about half the full fees. Biggs said the developer would pay less because the project won’t rely solely on potable water. Hester also plans to spend about $3.5 million to upgrade the city’s sewage plant to provide recycled water for irrigation.

• Higginbotham also asked for more information about the cost to distribute the recycled water. She added: “I need to be confident that we have the future use of that water and how we will pay for the infrastructure to disperse that water to other sources without it burdening the current ratepayers.”

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