A steady hum of traffic from travelers on Highway 101 mixed with the sounds of birds chirping Friday at San Luis Ranch, the bucolic 131-acre working ranch that’s greeted freeway passers-by with views of farmland for decades.
Under a proposed San Luis Ranch specific plan working its way through the city process, about 50 of the 109 acres now under cultivation would remain farmland, while other areas of the property would be developed.
Several San Luis Obispo planning commissioners noted during a preliminary review of the plan Wednesday that affordable housing for the local workforce is needed, but with up to 500 market-rate homes allowed on the site under the city’s general plan, the potential for traffic impacts to existing roads and residents is a key issue.
The commission heard an overview and gave feedback on the proposed development, which is in preliminary stages and faces numerous additional hearings and approvals — including consent from the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission to be annexed into the city — before any earth could be turned.
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Developer Gary Grossman, president of Coastal Community Builders Inc., bought the $19.7 million property from Ernie Dalidio in 2014. The Dalidio family acquired the ranch, now sandwiched between Madonna Road and Highway 101, in the 1920s.
Dalidio tried for years to develop the site; in 2006, county voters approved Measure J, a ballot initiative that still allows for 530,000 square feet of commercial space, 198,000 square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel, 60 residential units and 13 acres of agricultural uses.
Grossman’s plans focus more on housing than commercial uses but do include up to 150,000 square feet of commercial and 100,000 square feet of office space, a 200-room hotel and nearly 3.4 acres of parks. Half of the land would remain open space and agricultural.
In a phone interview, Grossman and project representative Marshall Ochylski estimated it could be five to 10 years before the project is fully completed. The project’s draft environmental impact report could be released this summer, followed by city hearings. The project could be under construction in 2018.
“I love affordable housing; we need housing,” Planning Commissioner John Fowler said during Wednesday’s meeting. “But I’m concerned about how many units are actually going to be affordable.”
The plan proposes 350 single-family and 150 multifamily units. Ochylski and project planner Rachel Kovesdi, president of Kovesdi Consulting, said the lot sizes for the single-family homes could range from 1,000 to 3,200 square feet, with average home sizes about 1,300 to 1,500 square feet.
They said they’re trying to hit a “moderate-income” housing price of $411,000 for a single-family home. The specific plan states that a 1,300-square-foot home would be valued about $475,000; while the project’s attached units would range from 700 to 1,200 square feet and cost about $250,000 to $400,000.
What really stuck out to me is ... the price range is going to be $250,000 to $440,000. That’s wonderful, that’s something that I can afford. That’s something that my peers can afford.
Enrique Ivers, San Luis Obispo resident and Cal Poly graduate
The project is also required to build, pay in-lieu fees or dedicate property for an additional 15 percent of below-market rate homes.
“We’ve done studies to show we can bring in houses within the realm of the median income, which just isn’t happening in San Luis,” Grossman said. “The majority of the workforce, the most they can afford in San Luis Obispo is two-bedroom condos and we want to be able to give people what they really want — they want a backyard, a garage, they want a little house.”
Resident Enrique Ivers, a recent Cal Poly graduate and renter, said as much to the Planning Commission: “I think the problem is we don’t have adequate housing here. I make a good salary ... since I’ve moved here, since I started at Cal Poly, I’ve put six figures of money into landlords’ pockets and I have no equity to show for it.”
Several commissioners said they were concerned about the project’s impact on traffic. Besides building a street network through the project, which includes extending Froom Ranch Way to Dalidio Drive, the developer would pay a fair-share portion toward a potential freeway overpass or interchange connection to Prado Road across Highway 101.
Commissioners said they didn’t expect the San Luis Ranch project to pay more than its fair share, but said the city needs to take a lead role to make important road connections happen to help alleviate congestion on existing streets.
“We want 500 homes here, 700 in Avila Ranch ... and we’ve been talking about Prado Road forever,” Commissioner Ronald Malak said. “In my opinion we don’t have the circulation set for all of this, so I’m having a really difficult time looking at these projects knowing we’re redirecting all this traffic onto Higuera or Madonna, and these arteries are busy as they are now without adding more cars to them.”
“I know we need housing and the whole issue to me becomes circulation and Prado Road,” he added.
Geoffrey Chiapella, a transportation planner with San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, said the agency recognizes the importance of the Prado Road overpass or interchange and hopes to partner if possible to share in the city’s cost burden.
“However, there are a number of interchange improvement needs up and down the 101 corridor and Prado Road would be competing for limited state and federal funds,” he warned. “At the same time, state and federal funding for transportation has remained flat.”