I applaud the decision by Atascadero’s planning commissioners and City Council to move ahead with the Eagle Ranch development project by ordering the environmental impact report. Costing an estimated $500,000, the EIR will be paid for by the applicants and take about a year to complete.
The historic Eagle Ranch, which was included in the original 23,000-acre purchase by Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis, was not within the boundaries of the new city approved by voters in the summer of 1979.
The 3,430-acre ranch has been in an agricultural preserve for the past two or three decades but is now being considered for development by its owners, the Smith family, who acquired the property in the mid-1960s.
The majority of the testimony before a joint session of both the Planning Commission and City Council acknowledged the level of cooperation of the applicants to involve the public in the process. Many residents of nearby streets and property expressed concerns about traffic or noise and even the loss of the dark evening sky, but they said the Smiths were in essence good listeners to their concerns.
And concerns raised over the past many months have resulted in a slightly scaled-down plan that would include 494 single-family lots, 93 units of multiple-family housing, a resort hotel, some highway commercial and more than 16 miles of hiking and equestrian trails which link to other existing or soon-to-be-built trails. Some of the plans, especially for hotels and highway commercial, have been suggested by the city.
The Smiths have a lot of people telling them what to do with their property.
They could sell off the 452 existing Colony lots planned by Lewis when his entire subdivision was turned into the county in 1913.
But if the property is annexed into the city limits, then roads, fire and police protection and more will be better monitored.
The major glitch is a fiscal one. Under existing agreements, San Luis Obispo County will continue to get two-thirds of the property tax dollars while the city, which will be providing all the services, gets one-third.
That formula needs to change, and as I understand it, is being addressed very soon by both parties (city and county). In fairness to the Smith family, the process shouldn’t move ahead until the issue gets settled, because the council has pretty much suggested it would not approve the project under the present agreement.