With heavy commuter traffic already causing congestion in parts of southern San Luis Obispo, some residents worry that adding an additional 720 homes to that area will only make the problem worse.
“If the infrastructure is not in place, this is going to be a nightmare for all of us who live around there,” said Kathy Borland, who lives on Buckley Road in the county.
Increased traffic congestion was the main concern aired this week during another preliminary review of a 720-home development proposed for Avila Ranch in southern San Luis Obispo. Some residents urged the city to place a higher priority on completing long-envisioned road extensions or widening projects before approving any new developments that would add more vehicles to busy streets.
The San Luis Obispo Planning Commission continued its discussion of the project Wednesday, with the meeting centered on infrastructure: Roads, bicycle circulation, water and sewer.
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During its last discussion on Feb. 24, commissioners gave feedback on the mix of home types and other land uses proposed for 150 acres on three parcels bounded by Buckley Road to the south, Vachell Lane to the west, the city limit to the east, and industrial properties to the north.
If the infrastructure is not in place, this is going to be a nightmare for all of us who live around there.
Kathy Borland, resident of Buckley Road
The Avila family 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.
In addition to the 720 homes, the plan includes building 15,000 square feet of “neighborhood-serving” commercial space, parks, bike paths and an extension of Buckley Road to South Higuera Street.
Venture Drive, which dead-ends into the property, would be extended through the site, connecting to an extension of Jesperson Road from Buckley Road, according to a staff report on the plan. Earthwood Lane would be extended south of Suburban Road to the project, allowing future residents in the development to access nearby grocery stores without having to take South Higuera Street.
Still, there was plenty of concern voiced about additional traffic — estimated at 6,000 daily trips — and how it would further impact South Higuera Street, Buckley and Tank Farm roads, and Highway 227 if some work is not done to alleviate congestion before additional homes are added.
“I think the perfect example is Costco and Home Depot — all that went in and the (Los Osos Valley Road) bridge is just now getting finished,” Borland said. “Tank Farm should be four lanes, end of story. We have so many of our corridors that are only two lanes.”
A few residents implored commissioners to speed up other major transportation projects included in the city’s general plan to improve circulation, such as extending Prado Road to Broad Street, widening Tank Farm Road, or analyzing a new roadway connection from Los Osos Valley Road to South Higuera Street (referred to as the LOVR bypass).
“All of those EIRs (environmental impact reports) which the city previously accepted — Froom Ranch, the Target project — may have grossly underestimated the traffic impacts to the Los Osos Valley Road and South Higuera corridors,” resident Sarah Flickinger said.
“We support the Buckley Road extension,” she added, “however, it only takes us a portion of the way toward a solution.”
She urged the city advance a conceptual plan for the LOVR bypass. The bypass would intersect with Los Osos Valley Road somewhere between San Luis Obispo Creek and the Los Verdes homes, hooking back into South Higuera Street south of the Octagon Barn, said Jake Hudson, transportation operations supervisor.
Kayla Plourde, who lives off Buckley Road in the county, said she avoids turning on the busy road during commute times. She urged the city to work with the county to complete upgrades to the entire length of Buckley Road, such as widening the shoulders to meet minimum bikeway standards — not just through the project site.
Bike SLO County board member Lea Brooks said the city needs a complete bike network to serve Avila Ranch and other neighborhoods, such as improved bike lanes on South Higuera Street, to encourage more people to get out of their cars.
“People are not going to ride their bicycles as transportation unless they feel safe,” she said. “The reality is if everyone in this project drives, there’s going to be absolute gridlock.”
We know people can’t get it (housing), and it needs to be affordable. For now I think we’re not in jeopardy of having too many houses.
John Fowler San Luis Obispo planning commissioner
Two local business owners also questioned the placement of “an island of residential” homes next to industrial uses and the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport. Drew Munster of Sports Warehouse said a business park at that site makes more sense. The land, annexed into the city in 2008, was zoned for business uses but is now envisioned in the general plan as a place to provide a range of housing types.
City officials said a business park would bring much more traffic, about 32,000 daily trips, compared with 6,000 daily trips with a residential project.
“Where do we go?” asked Ty Safreno, co-founder of Trust Automation Inc. “We plan to grow. The places for us to go keep shrinking.”
Planning Commissioner John Fowler said the city has made housing a top priority for a reason: “We know people can’t get it, and it needs to be affordable. For now I think we’re not in jeopardy of having too many houses.”
But he and Commissioner Michael Draze urged the developer to consider moving the extension of Buckley Road from Vachell Lane to South Higuera Street into the project’s first phase, not the second phase as planned.
The commissioners also discussed whether the commercial part of the project is needed, or whether it could be moved elsewhere in the project, to generate fewer vehicle trips to and from the development.