Water right extensions OK’d

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMay 30, 2013 

It took a couple of hours of sometimes heated discussion by services district directors May 23, but two landowners wound up with extensions of their individual “intent to serve” letters for water service. Both had been set to expire June 1.

Neither extension granted was as long as the three years requested by the Kingston Bay Senior Living Center and the county’s library system, however, as the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors wrestled with side issues affecting their decisions.

The items had been listed on the board’s consent agenda, but Director Amanda Rice asked to consider separately San Luis Obispo County’s request for its Cornwall Street property, and Director Muril Clift pulled Kingston Bay’s extension request.

The board extended for two years Kingston Bay’s intent-to-serve for a project proposed for the intersection of Ardath Drive, Green Street and Londonderry Lane. That project’s minor use permit was upheld recently by the Board of Supervisors, although Bruce Fosdike’s appeal also was partially upheld when the supervisors added additional conditions to the permit. An appeal to the California Coastal Commission is expected.

The water rights for the county’s Cornwall Street property — bought by the county for $518,000 in 2005 as a site for the town’s new library — was extended for one year. The library plan was switched to the already built empty building across from the Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street. After interior improvements are completed, the facility is expected to open by the end of the year.

Debate over the 31-unit, 41-bed facility for “frail elderly” focused on how many projects with intent-to-serve letters are still “in the pipeline,” possible problems with how the district lists properties on that list, the difference in Cambria’s water situation now versus when the letter was issued to a previous senior center on the site in 2002, and if it’s fair to provide water to such a large, single project when so many who want to build homes here have been waiting so very long to do so.

The district’s water wait list closed in 1990; the town has been under a water-shortage-triggered moratorium on new water connections since 2001. The district is to strengthen its water-conservation program in order to prove to county and state regulators that will free up water for an as-yet unknown number of new-home projects.

When Director Amanda Rice suggested a one-year extension with a couple of conditions, she noted that previous extensions had been for a year, and that time frame “is plenty.”

However, the possibility of appeal to the Coastal Commission means that a one-year extension might not be long enough, according to a couple of the other directors.

The final vote for a two-year extension was 4-1, with Rice voting against it. 

Director Clift took umbrage at the county’s application on a “hardship basis,” and he said the library department was being “purely a speculator” and wanting to hold onto the Cornwall property until the agency can make more money selling it.

However, library Director Brian Reynolds and Jeri Farrell, president of Friends of the Cambria Library, countered that the hardship element would affect the Friends group and Cambria’s library patrons more than the county. The contract between Friends and the county calls for a 50-50 split on costs of the new library and credit for proceeds from selling the Cornwall lot and the present library building and property.

Reynolds estimated that $300,000 of the $518,000 purchase price was attributed to having a secured expectation of water service, and if that is no longer valid, the value of the property diminishes drastically.

If those sales come in lower than estimated, the new library project “will not be able to proceed” until new funding is found, Reynolds wrote in a letter to the district. “This loss would create a financial hardship for the community and the future of the library project would be placed in serious jeopardy.”

Clift eventually proposed a one year-extension, based “to protect the citizens of this community and not considered a precedent for any future intention.” Director Jim Bahringer seconded the motion, which passed.

Another consent-agenda item also didn’t go as planned. A utility easement requested by PG&E required more study, according to counsel Tim Carmel, so the item was pulled until the June meeting at the earliest.

Corey Marsalek of county Public Works said the action would delay construction of a replacement Main Street Bridge over Santa Rosa Creek, especially considering restrictions on when work can be done in and around the creek.

When the issue is over a “10-foot-by-20-foot easement for a guy wire, she said, “it’s disappointing this will delay the project and cost more money.”

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