Landowner wants broader look at Price Canyon development

In the shadow of controversial Spanish Springs, Pismo Ranch is a similar plan for a mixed development

clambert@thetribunenews.comJune 14, 2013 

For months, as Pismo Beach officials discussed a proposed 961-acre development outside city limits, Darren Shetler has been watching.

Shetler, a San Luis Obispo resident, is co-owner of a separate, 231-acre property that borders the city and abuts Price Canyon Road. Long known as the Big Bird property, Shetler is now calling his plans for the land Pismo Ranch.

Don’t confuse his property with Spanish Springs, the larger development proposed adjacent to Shetler’s land.

The Spanish Springs project is further ahead in the city planning process and goes before the Pismo Beach City Council for a vote Tuesday. The Pismo Ranch proposal is at least six months behind, but Shetler recently questioned whether the city should take a step back and further analyze the overall impact of development in the canyon.

At one point intertwined, the two projects have been on separate planning tracks for a few years.

Despite this, they share many similar challenges and goals. Both projects propose hundreds of homes as well as hotel rooms and conference facilities, and city leaders, in considering them, will face many of the same questions: Will the project cost the city money? How will drivers access it? Has it found a sustainable water source?

In addition, Shetler’s plans have changed since a study of the Price Canyon area was completed in 2009. At the time, he anticipated 176 homes on his land. Now, he’s planning for more than double that number, plus a hotel and an event center.

Shetler sent a letter to Pismo Beach staff and council members this week, suggesting Pismo Ranch be incorporated into the planning documents and agreements that will guide development of Spanish Springs.

“We need no urgency for the council to extend an approval or entitlement to a single ownership within the planning area that doesn’t enable the city to fully realize the maximum potential, opportunities and long-term benefits to the community,” he wrote.

However, a Spanish Springs project representative strongly disagrees.

Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis said staff has not formulated a response to Shetler’s letter because it was received just a few days ago and they’re busy preparing for Tuesday’s meeting.

Questions about whether the planning documents should cover the entire area “are pretty speculative and are appropriate policy discussions,” he noted in an email.

Carol Florence, a Spanish Springs project representative, says she sees no need for a delay. Nor would one be fair to Spanish Springs, which has been vetted at numerous public hearings, she said.

“That latest concept is only the last in a series of concepts presented over many years,” she wrote in an email. “Now, after Spanish Springs has been in the review process for multiple years … Big Bird has submitted a proposed concept plan that proposes a different mix of land uses … and which proposes a road circulation pattern inconsistent with Spanish Springs.”

Earlier in the week, during a tour of his ranch, Shetler pointed out areas where he’d like to build live-work housing, a lodging facility and an events center. His land currently includes grazing and dry-farming operations, as well as the Price Adobe.

“Should there be two hotels?” Shetler asked. “That needs to be studied together.”

In addition, he’s concerned that portions of the documents between the city and Spanish Springs — which the City Council will consider Tuesday — could delay or negatively impact his project.

“We’ve expressed concerns that some of the general plan amendments are too focused on their development and not the entire area,” said Don Ritter, a project consultant.

The projects

Shetler has co-owned the Pismo Ranch property for about eight years with Tim Lewy, a Bakersfield resident.

Their proposal now includes 310 single-family homes, 60 multifamily units, a 175-room hotel and 12,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. About 129 acres would remain privately owned agricultural open space.

The plan also includes a 16,000-square-foot event center, which was likened to the Alex Madonna Expo Center in San Luis Obispo.

Spanish Springs would include 416 single-family homes, 73 apartments or condos, 120 senior units, a 150-room hotel, a 10,000-square-foot conference center, a nine-hole golf course, parks and vineyards.

Both properties would have to be annexed into the city before development could occur.

Pismo Beach’s general plan, which guides long-term growth, has envisioned development in Price Canyon, including a golf course, resort and conference center.

For numerous years, property owners in the area had worked together to develop land-use plans for Price Canyon. But starting around 2008, it appeared the developers had “a difference of opinion … on how best to proceed with planning efforts,” according to a city staff report prepared for Tuesday’s council meeting.

In late 2010 and early 2011, the Spanish Springs properties were acquired by Stephen Hester of West Coast Housing Partners, and he requested that the city process the projects separately. The city agreed in February 2012.

A project description for Pismo Ranch has been submitted and is under review, but the next step, an environmental impact report, has not been completed.

“It was really a timing issue,” Florence said. She added that Spanish Springs planners were careful to design roads and other infrastructure so Shetler could easily incorporate them into his development plans.

“Spanish Springs has provided logical potential circulation connection points to the Big Bird (Pismo Ranch) site and is compatible with any number of reasonable development concepts for Big Bird,” she added in an email. “Spanish Springs approval should not be delayed because Big Bird has now unveiled yet another conceptual development plan for its property.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service