A new city plan that calls for a community farm and educational hub on agricultural land at the southern end of San Luis Obispo prompted irritable debate on the dais about future implications the plan may have on rancher-developer Ernie Dalidio’s property.
Two City Council members expressed concern Tuesday that it might influence Dalidio’s decision to seek annexation for his 131 acres of farmland.
Still, the council voted 4-1 to adopt the agricultural master plan for the Calle Joaquin Agricultural Reserve, which includes 25 acres of farmland already deeded to the city by developers in the area bordered by Madonna Road, Highway 101 and Prefumo Creek.
The debate ensued over the plan’s governance of an additional 65 acres that the city could potentially acquire should Dalidio seek annexation of his property in the future.
The plan has no impact on the property should Dalidio choose to develop the land within the county.
Councilman Andrew Carter, the lone dissenter on the vote, said Wednesday that he didn’t support the plan because it didn’t include an option to extend Calle Joaquin, currently a cul-de-sac, which could be needed once Dalidio develops the adjacent property.
Councilman John Ashbaugh, who voted in favor of the plan, said he did it with reservations and was concerned that the master plan would jeopardize Dalidio’s decision to seek development within the city instead of the county.
“I urge him to not go forward in the county and come back to the city,” Ashbaugh said.
For nearly two decades, Dalidio has wanted to build a shopping center on the farmland next to Highway 101.
But the project has had a history of opposition. Some people have been concerned with the loss of agricultural land, while others worried about the impact a large commercial development would have on downtown businesses.
Dalidio won the right to develop the property in 2009 when the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that his Marketplace proposal could move forward with development in the county.
During the political fight, some of the retail stores planned for the Dalidio site — such as Old Navy and Target — have opened or are under construction at other sites nearby in town.
Dalidio has objected to being included in the new agricultural master plan — saying it conflicts with what was approved by voters.
Mayor Jan Marx, who was a vocal opponent of the project passed as Measure J by voters countywide in 2006, said the new agricultural master plan wasn’t intended to deter Dalidio from seeking annexation.
“The purpose of this plan is to give guidance so that the city knows what to do with the 25 acres we have right now,” Marx said. “It is good planning and just makes sense, and hopefully it will not be interpreted as a wish to put up any barriers to commercial development.”
The new plan paves the way for a community farm and educational center on the 25 acres of land now owned by the city.