Hotel, trails could take shape at former tank farm near Avila Beach

SLO County begins long process that could one day allow development on Chevron property overlooking the ocean

dsneed@thetribunenews.comSeptember 10, 2013 

A view of Fossil Point, the former Union Oil tank farm on bluffs above Avila Beach.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County supervisors Tuesday took the first step in a long process that could lead to a hotel resort being built on the coastal bluffs overlooking Avila Beach where an oil tank farm once stood.

Supervisors authorized county planners to begin a general plan amendment changing the zoning of the 95-acre property from industrial to recreational. Property owner Chevron Co. has not submitted a formal development plan but has a project outline or “vision” for the property.

The outline includes developing the site into a resort with a restaurant, spa, shops, cottages and hotel. Also proposed are a coastal bluff trail that would be a new segment of the California Coastal Trail and other recreational amenities to take advantage of the spectacular views of the coast from the bluffs.

“I think it is appropriate to move it forward,” said Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Avila Beach.

If developed, the property would be open to the public for the first time in more than 100 years. About 40 percent of the property would be developed, with the rest to be open space, said Debbie Rudd, a planning consultant for Chevron with RRM Design Group in San Luis Obispo.

It will likely take five years before any development could begin on the property, said Bill Almas, project manager with Chevron. Before it can be developed, the site will have to be cleaned of any pollution and the remaining oil infrastructure must be removed.

Chevron will also prepare an environmental impact report to cover the cleanup and proposed development. All development plans and zone changes must be approved by the county and the state Coastal Commission.

Supervisors and county planning staff said gaining approval for the project will be a long, involved process that will require consultation with many state and local agencies as well as the public and the Chumash tribe.

The tank farm facility, between the town of Avila Beach and Cave Landing, played an integral part in the history of the town. It was constructed in 1906 by Union Oil.
Oil stored in the farm flowed through underground pipes to a tanker-loading pier that has since been converted to a Cal Poly research facility.

The tank farm was dismantled in 1998 after it was discovered that oil had leaked from the pipes. Much of the soil beneath the town and beach was contaminated, prompting a disruptive excavation and cleanup.

For the past 15 years, the tank farm site has been idle and mostly vacant.

Management of the site has focused on assessing the ecological and human health risks from the past industrial activities and determining how the area should be cleaned up for reuse.

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