Spanish Springs vote gets a second look

Landowner wants Pismo council to take back some decisions; project opponents like the idea

sprovost@thetribunenews.comAugust 30, 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.


Spanish Springs landowner Stephen Hester is calling on the Pismo Beach City Council to forgo a referendum on development in Price Canyon and instead repeal a resolution meant to guide proposals for the area. He may not get much argument from community activists opposing the project or a neighboring landowner.

The City Council is expected Tuesday to consider either repealing or conducting a referendum on a General Plan amendment adopted in June.

Opponents of development have gathered 865 signatures for a referendum on the amendment. But Hester, in a letter to the mayor and City Council dated Aug. 26, instead proposed repealing the amendment without a vote, stating that an election would be “highly inefficient and legally problematic.”

Hester said the June resolution contains misleading wording concerning water resources that he said could undermine the integrity of an election.

A second issue, he said, arose from a City Council directive that he work with neighboring landowner Darren Shetler, who has been seeking to develop a smaller piece of land called Pismo Ranch with more than 300 homes. Hester wrote that the two had been meeting for several weeks and that those meetings were likely to produce proposed modifications to the General Plan policies the council adopted.

That would, in effect, render the framework adopted in June obsolete. Shetler said Friday that he had opposed the plan when it was adopted, and Pismo Ranch land use consultant Don Ritter pointed out that the smaller project is in an earlier planning stage.

“We certainly don’t oppose a repeal of the current plan, since in my mind we still need some time to finish our work,” Ritter said. “We would appreciate more time to work out our concerns.”

Sheila Blake, an opponent of the Spanish Springs development who has been involved in the referendum petition drive, welcomed Hester’s call for repeal: “I’m glad Mr. Hester has shown some wisdom, in that he’s only going to put more money into a project that is seriously opposed.”

The Spanish Springs project would include 416 single-family homes, 73 apartments or condos and 120 senior units, along with a 150-room hotel and 10,000-square-foot conference center. Planned for 961 acres, it would also feature parkland, a nine-hole golf course, dog park, wastewater treatment facility, and trails for hikers, cyclists and equestrian enthusiasts.

Carol Florence, project representative for Spanish Springs, had no comment on how the council’s vote might affect the future of the project.

“We’re at this point beholden to the council and their decision-making pro-cess,” she said. “How the rest of the process plays out is a subsequent discussion.”

Blake also said the ball is in the council’s court.

“The city has to decide that,” she said when asked where the process goes from here. “If they go for the election, they’ll spend a whole lot of money from the taxpayers.”

Several options are available to the council if it chooses to pursue a referendum on the General Plan amendment. According to the council agenda:

• A stand-alone election conducted by the county registrar Dec. 3 or 17 would cost an estimated $55,000.

• The price would go up to $75,000 for a special election on any other date, which would be conducted by Martin & Chapman Co.

• If the vote were conducted as part of the statewide primary June 3, the cost would be $35,000.

• The incremental cost to add the measure to the Nov. 4, 2014, municipal ballot would be $8,000, in addition to the $11,000 cost of conducting an election to select a mayor and two council members.

The council is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Veterans’ Memorial Building.

In the meantime, talks between Spanish Springs and Pismo Ranch representatives have been continuing. Florence said they are progressing well but haven’t been concluded yet; Ritter said he foresees two or three more meetings.

The discussions, Ritter said, have focused in part on what might happen if the Pismo Ranch development were to move ahead of Spanish Springs in the planning pipeline. In such a situation, he said, Pismo Ranch wants the ability to fund upgrades to the site that would be needed to comply with the General Plan.

Shetler said he favors development of Pismo Ranch along with one parcel of Spanish Springs land — both of which are contiguous with the Pismo Beach city limits — first. Two other Spanish Springs parcels, he said, should be put on the back burner to avoid “hopscotch development.” He also said he doubts the community would accept the more than 800 residential units planned for the two developments together.

“I think for us to get a project approved in Pismo Beach, we’re going to have to have the support of people who are concerned about development, the business community and the City Council,” he said. “We think if we don’t have the support of the citizens, it’s not going to fly.”

Whatever happens at Tuesday’s council meeting, Blake doesn’t think it will be the end of the discussion.

“Even if we were to win the election, it allows them to come back (and try again),” she said. “This has been going on for years.”

If you go ...

Pismo Beach City Council meeting

When: Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. Where: Pismo Beach Veterans’ Memorial Hall, 780 Bello St., Pismo Beach

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