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Supervisors again delay vote on viewshed

County supervisors today postponed a decision on a law to regulate views of North Coast hilltops from county highways, even as one of their number told them that trying to find common ground among the different factions was futile.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who represents the area that has been bogged down for five years in struggles over the so-called viewshed ordinance, could not vote on it because he owns property there.

But he spoke as a citizen who has been involved from the beginning, telling the other four supervisors to “abandon your efforts to find a consensus.” He said there are irreconcilable philosophical differences between the factions.

One side, he said, believes the county’s “scenic beauty is a commonly held property right worthy of protection.” The other, he said, believes private property owners can do whatever they want with their land.

Gibson, espousing the first alternative, urged supervisors to adopt a tough viewshed ordinance favored by the Cayucos Citizens Advisory Council.

Viewshed ordinances are designed to protect the public's views of those ridgetops without taking away the property rights of those who own the land. They do not prohibit development -- but they strictly regulate it.

An ordinance delineates whether, or under what conditions, landowners can build a home in such a location and on what part of the property.

The county has enacted ordinances for the Morros -- the rock outcroppings that run from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay -- along Highway 1, the Edna Valley east of San Luis Obispo, the Salinas River and the ridges east of Nipomo.

There is no such law for the county's 53 square miles of rugged ranch and farm land that girdles Highway 1 and sweeps northeast from Cayucos to Templeton and Paso Robles. An estimated 1,200 houses could be built there, by some calculations.

At their last meeting on the subject in April, supervisors ended up with three proposals. Although there were other dissimilarities, a chief difference was how many roads to include.

Supervisor Jerry Lenthall organized a committee to find consensus, and supervisors delayed a decision until Tuesday. But the committee met only once, and found little common ground.

Lenthall today asked for more time to work with the committee, and his colleagues gave him until Aug. 21. Roughly 30 people testified despite the continuance, speaking two to one in favor of a tougher ordinance, and expressing frustration with the delays.

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