720-home development in SLO adds more affordable units, offers first dibs to locals

Avila Ranch, a 720-home development off Buckley Road in southern San Luis Obispo, will offer more affordable homes than originally envisioned to address concerns of city leaders. It also would offer first dibs on single-family homes to those who work in or near the city.

Although the city Planning Commission has reacted favorably to the project, at least one member, John Fowler, expressed interest in seeing even more affordable units.

“Andy Mangano (the developer) has been a really good applicant and workforce housing is a good thing for us, and I want to work with a guy who attempts to do good for community,” Fowler said Thursday. “But I also think we can negotiate that sweet spot where Andy agrees to build even more affordable homes.”

The Planning Commission has met three times to discuss Avila Ranch in the past two weeks, including on Wednesday. More than 100 speakers in total have weighed in, expressing concerns about the city’s tight, expensive housing market and how best to address it. The commission will next discuss the project on Aug. 9.

Based on commission feedback and a city staff requirement, Mangano has increased the number of affordable homes to 67 from 45. Thirty-two will be for low-income buyers (below 80 percent of the median income) and 35 will be for those with moderate incomes (up to 120 percent of the median).

In addition, the proposal is increasing the number of workforce housing units to 25 from 19. These units are designed for a four-person household with income between 120 percent and 160 percent of the median income — or up to about $133,000 today.

The project’s estimated home prices would be between $250,000 and $750,000 in today’s dollars, with most priced from $350,000 to $650,000, though those ranges aren’t guaranteed.

The average home cost in San Luis Obispo last year was $660,000, according to city data.

“We’ve seen a lot of projects in San Luis Obispo in recent years that are either designed for the lowest income residents or higher income residents,” said Stephen Peck, the developer’s planning consultant. “This project would provide homes to San Luis Obispo’s working-class residents to meet goals set forth by the city. To reduce commuter traffic from out of town, this will help get more people off the roads.”

Avila Ranch seeks to develop 58.3 acres of housing, 16 acres of roads, 15,000 square feet of retail and office space, and 18 acres of parks. It would leave 53 acres of open space. Based on commission input, the developer has agreed to use agricultural land for sustainable farming.

About 875 people, including about 70 percent who work in San Luis Obispo, have expressed interest in the project so far. They’ll have first preference, though the system won’t be a lottery. Also, the project’s single-family homes must be owner-occupied for at least five years to encourage local ownership.

Opponents of the project cite concerns about traffic citywide, impacts to a nearby industrial area, and a desire for more deed-restricted affordable units for low- and moderate-income residents.

About 2,200 new homes are envisioned citywide as part of the planned Avila Ranch, San Luis Ranch and Righetti Ranch projects.

“The infrastructure in San Luis Obispo doesn’t support it,” said Kathy Borland in public comment Wednesday. “We are losing San Luis Obispo as we know it.”

But supporters said that housing needs are critical in San Luis Obispo and the city’s long-term planning calls for housing at the Avila Ranch site and elsewhere to help meet demand. The project also will be “net zero,” producing as much energy as consumed, with solar panels installed on each home.

“I have 22 employees and only five of them live in San Luis Obispo,” said local banker Carl Dudley. “If they were able to live here, they could take part in Farmers Market and Concerts in the Plaza instead of having to get in their cars and fight traffic to get home to their families.”

The plan proposes the developer pays for an extension of Buckley Road to South Higuera Street, which could come in the first phase of the project if right-of-way can be obtained by the county from Caltrans and a few private owners. Otherwise, the extension must be built before the second phase of the project.

The developer’s impact fees to pay for sewer, water and other services are expected to be about $65 million, with an additional $3.5 million to $4 million to the San Luis Coastal Unified School District for its facilities.

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