Obtaining water — a supply that is adequate, reliable and sustainable — will be key to any future development in the Price Canyon area just outside the Pismo Beach city limits.
That was one of the messages that a key county board sent Thursday to the property owners of three parcels that together total 961 acres of steep hillsides, rolling slopes and level floodplains.
“I don’t know if we can make it any more clear that water has to be in hand and secured,” said David Church, executive officer of the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission. LAFCO, as it’s commonly known, is composed of local county and city officials. Among its duties, LAFCO considers annexation requests.
Before the properties, known together as Spanish Springs, can be developed, they first have to be annexed into Pismo Beach — a discussion that’s unlikely to start before next year.
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The proposal will also have to abide by strict rules regarding the area that the LAFCO board put in place last October. The rules restrict developers from using water from an underground aquifer and require projects to be phased so that land nearest to the city limits is developed first.
Although the size has been scaled down since last year, the proposal could still face opposition from local residents, many of whom live in the county and draw their water from wells.
Only a handful of local residents attended the meeting Thursday. Stewart Robinson, a county resident in rural Arroyo Grande, said he worried that “city-sized lots” would abut his neighborhood of 2-acre to 10-acre parcels, and hoped there would be a buffer of open space between the developments.
“I know most of the people in the rural area don’t look favorably on this project,” he said.
Last year, LAFCO had discussed a proposal encompassing 1,700 acres with a plan to build nearly 700 homes and 200 hotel rooms, with development covering 46 percent of the land.
The revised plan now covers 961 acres, with 422 single-family homes, 51 apartments or condominiums, up to 360 senior residential units, 150 hotel rooms, a nine-hole golf course, and 105 acres of vineyards.
The site is north of Pismo Beach’s city limits, bordered on the west by Price Canyon Road, an oil field to the north, and the rural Old Oak Park community to the east.
About 72 percent of the land would remain open space, either preserved through conservation easements or used for agriculture or recreation, including about 10 miles of trails.
Stephen Hester of West Coast Housing Partners, which is a managing member in the partnership that owns the three properties, said he’d be willing to place restrictions on all open space areas so they wouldn’t be developed at some future date. He also told LAFCO commissioners that it’s important to maintain the “rural experience” of the area.
The LAFCO board did not take action Thursday except to approve some comments on the Spanish Springs specific plan and environmental documents.
Water, or the lack of it, was the board’s key finding in its comments. The property owners are hoping to secure state water and plan to upgrade Pismo Beach’s wastewater treatment plant to create a recycled water program.
The reclaimed water, which would be used for irrigation purposes, is expected to be available in 2015, though construction of facilities has not yet started.