Blades of grass bent in a steady breeze Monday morning on part of Avila Ranch, 150 acres of agricultural land in southern San Luis Obispo that could see a flurry of construction in a few years.
Numerous steps and approvals are needed before the proposal could go forward, but the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission is holding preliminary reviews of the specific development plan for the site, located on three parcels at the northeast corner of Buckley Road and Vachell Lane.
As proposed, Avila Ranch would have up to 720 homes of various types, with lot sizes ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 square feet; a centrally located “town center” with 15,000 square feet of commercial space; about 16 acres of parks; and 55 acres of open space (or 35 percent of the project), including farmed agricultural land.
Last week, the commission gave feedback on the mix of home types and other land uses proposed for the site; on March 9, it will review traffic circulation, water and other infrastructure needed to support the development.
On Feb. 24, commissioners heard from about a half-dozen San Luis Obispo residents worried about the development’s impact on traffic and the city’s water supply, while a few others spoke about a large demand for affordable housing in the city.
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“We desperately need the housing,” said Scott Smith, executive director of the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo. But referring to nearby traffic issues, he added: “Anyone who lives or drives around town knows that ... it’s a complete mess right now. I think it can be planned; I would just hope it is planned well.”
The Avila Ranch site was annexed into the city in 2008 and is undeveloped, having been continuously farmed for the past 100 years by the Avila family, according to a development plan submitted to the city.
The site is flanked by industrial uses to the north, including Hanson Aggregates, a concrete supplier; and rural landscape to the south, with rolling hills sporadically dotted with homes and horses.
The family still owns 140 acres of the site; Avila Ranch LLC, of which Andy Mangano, owner of Mangano Homes, is a managing member, owns 10 acres and has a contract to buy the rest after the project is approved, project planner and manager Stephen Peck said.
The property, originally designated for a business park when annexed, is now planned to be developed primarily as residential neighborhoods to add housing that city officials say is desperately needed.
Project representatives said that more than 540 of the 720 units are expected to be affordable to families with moderate and “workforce incomes,” or 80 percent to 160 percent of the area’s median income (AMI). The AMI in 2015 for a household of four was estimated at $77,100 in the county, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A workforce income for a family of four is $123,360, while an income for a four-person family at 80 percent of the AMI is $61,700, according to the county Housing Trust Fund.
Peck said the smaller single-family units, slated to provide workforce housing, would sell for about $560,000 on average in today’s market, while the attached single-family townhomes would start in the $400,000 range.
Several planning commissioners said that they would like to see the different types of housing units — smaller single-family homes, townhomes and apartments — integrated throughout the development instead of split into different areas of the site.
“I’ve seen a number of developments do that and it seems to be more of a neighborhood with different income levels,” commissioner Ronald Malak said.
Commissioner Hemalata Dandekar said she would like to see some very small units in the plan. “I’ve seen some units at 500 or 700 square feet,” she said, “and I know that is pushing the boundaries for a traditional plan, but I wish we could see something. ... (They) are becoming the norm for young people who don’t have a very great salary or couples living in units that are much smaller.”
Commissioner William Riggs was blunt in voicing his concerns about the project and said it needs more innovation.
“I’m just surprised everyone is so happy with this. I’m getting a little tired of this template to be honest,” he said. “I would concur with everyone who has spoken about the notion of segregated clusters. We need to shuffle and integrate these uses.”
The project’s draft environmental impact report is expected to be released in the spring, followed by public hearings.
Most of the commission’s comments focused on the housing part of the plan, but several residents brought up traffic and water concerns.
“Due to a lack of rain from the predicted El Niño, we should not be approving this or any other development in San Luis Obispo until the rains materialize,” resident Mila Vujovich-La Barre said.
On traffic, San Luis Obispo resident Sarah Flickinger said the proposed extension of Buckley Road to South Higuera Street doesn’t go far enough to address congestion problems that already exist, and the city should pursue a new bypass from Los Osos Valley Road to Higuera Street, as identified in the city’s General Plan.
“For anyone who hasn’t driven the area during peak commute times, we have a circulation problem in the southern area of the city ... and the LOVR intersection is not going to fix it,” she said. “Adding 720 new residences to the issue isn’t exactly going to help.”
How the housing at Avila Ranch would be divided
The Avila Ranch development plan currently proposes a mix of housing types:
- Low-density units: 105 single-family homes on 17.45 acres, with the average lot size about 5,000 square feet.
- Medium-density: 305 small detached single family units on about 35 acres, with the typical lot size about 3,575 square feet. Units would range in size from about 1,350 square feet to 2,000 square feet, with an average of about 1,675 square feet.
- Medium high-density: 185 units on 11 acres, described as apartments, townhomes or condos with units ranging from 1,100 to 1,750 square feet with an average of about 1,500 square feet. Seventy units would be designated “moderate-income units.”
- High-density: 125 apartments on 4.71 acres, ranging in size from 650-square-foot studios to 1,150 square foot two-bedroom units. Thirty-five units would meet moderate and lower-income affordable housing requirements.