In an effort to prevent large housing and commercial projects from being built in a bucolic area east of Pismo Beach, a group of residents is gathering signatures for an initiative to limit the types of development there.
If placed on the November ballot, the measure would amend the city’s general plan to allow dry farming, grazing, parks, trails, schools, public buildings and limited residential development on about 1,140 acres in Price Canyon, outside city limits.
“We’re trying to avoid over-development in an open area which really has no need to be developed,” said Pismo Beach resident Sheila Blake, a member of local group Save Price Canyon and a critic of a residential and hotel project called Spanish Springs.
Parcel sizes would be limited to 40 acres or larger, with a maximum of two homes per parcel. In addition, the initiative would require each project to bring with it a new long-term water source — a supply that has two to three years of sustained production — before it could be annexed.
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“The development that we’ve proposed is very similar to what the county would allow anyway,” Pismo Beach resident Richard Foster said.
The initiative creates a new land-use designation for the area, called “watershed and resource management,” which would only apply to projects seeking annexation into the city of Pismo Beach. The designation could be rescinded or amended only by a vote of the people for a 30-year period.
The measure would cover four parcels in Price Canyon that are currently in the city’s “sphere of influence,” or the area in which it is likely to expand. County supervising planner Mike Wulkan said the density included in the initiative is “roughly the same or even less than what the county would allow.”
Some South County residents were concerned about development in Price Canyon even before Spanish Springs took shape. That project proposed 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.
The Pismo Beach City Council approved environmental documents and some general plan amendments for that project last summer. However, the council later rescinded its votes after members of the Save Price Canyon group gathered enough signatures to force the council to hold a referendum or withdraw its general plan modifications.
Now, proponents of the initiative have until May 1 to gather at least 517 signatures (10 percent of the city’s registered voters) to get the initiative on the November ballot.
Though proponents anticipate pushback on the measure from local developers, two representatives for Price Canyon property owners said Friday they are still reviewing the initiative and had not discussed a response.
“Obviously property owners are concerned with property rights,” said Don Ritter, a representative for the owners of Pismo Ranch, a 250-acre parcel that borders the city and abuts Price Canyon Road. He said property owners Darren Shelter and Tim Lewy are continuing to work on their plans, which include hundreds of single-family and multi-family homes, a restaurant and retail space.
The proposal also included an event center, but Ritter sounded unsure about that aspect: “I guess there’s some question about what the city would really like to see out there,” he said.
He hopes to take the project back to the city, perhaps in smaller phases.
Dave Watson, a planning consultant for Spanish Springs, said it’s too soon to say whether the initiative will face a challenge, and wondered whether the ballot box is the right place to make complex land-use decisions.
Save Price Canyon members, however, said they chose to go to a public vote because they don’t trust city leaders “to carry out what’s good for the people who live here,” Blake said.
Watson said an initial review of the initiative left him with the impression that “their approach was to make it as complicated and confusing as possible so that a project never gets off the ground.”
“It’s almost like they want to create a park out there,” he added.
Watson said developer Stephen Hester had hoped to take Spanish Springs back to the City Council, but was told that city officials are currently focusing on other issues, including a revitalization plan for downtown.
When asked about Hester’s options, Watson said: “To sit back and wait, fight the election, develop in the county, walk away.”