Part of Wild Cherry Canyon could be developed

dsneed@thetribunenews.comApril 16, 2013 

The higher elevations of the Wild Cherry Canyon property offer ocean views from Montaña de Oro to Point Sal on a clear day.


Lease owners in Wild Cherry Canyon are considering developing part of the property now that efforts to conserve the land are dead.

Owner Denis Sullivan told The Tribune on Tuesday that the plan is to set aside 10 percent of the 2,400 acres for development while conserving the rest. The owners would like to rezone the property to recreation, like the adjacent Avila Beach Resort.

Such zoning would require that 90 percent be designated as open space, but details of any development on the remainder are not known, Sullivan said.

“I can't say what type or scope of development we would undertake at this time,” he said. “We would need to do more baseline engineering studies before we could craft a development plan.”

Sullivan said he would like to see the 20-mile coastal trail planned for the property become a reality. He would also support development of a campground there.

On Monday, Sullivan and the American Land Conservancy announced that plans dating to 1999 to conserve the entire property and add it to the Montaña de Oro State Park had fallen through. The owners became tired of the many delays and the $21 million purchase price which they considered too low.

Joe Steinberg, chairman of Leucadia National Corp., which is majority owner of the leases, told Sullivan to end the conservation deal. “You are no longer authorized to make any further extensions of the deal with ALC," Steinberg told Sullivan.

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Wild Cherry Canyon, said that any kind of development in Wild Cherry Canyon would be a “hard sell.” Rezoning or development plans would require county approval and perhaps Coastal Commission approval and would likely meet stiff opposition from county officials and the public.

Sullivan and the other owners hold long-term leases in Wild Cherry Canyon, but the property is owned by a subsidiary of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. The utility is liable to be leery of any sizable development that close to Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, Hill said.

Kara Blakeslee, who has spearheaded the Wild Cherry Canyon conservation, said that the development potential for the land is limited by the limited number of parcels and the sensitive natural resources there.

“I think the community has to look very closely at any development beyond existing rights,” she said.

In addition to the American Land Conservancy, the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County helped coordinated efforts to conserve Wild Cherry Canyon.

"It is important to realize that the effort to protect Wild Cherry Canyon was worth trying for," said Kaila Dettman, executive director of the Land Conservancy. "As a community, we value dreaming big about ways to improve our quality of life, and we should be proud that we pursued this visionary conservation project."

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