A major San Luis Obispo housing development located near the County Regional Airport and targeted to working-class people received the go-ahead from the City Council on Tuesday.
The Avila Ranch project proposed off Buckley Road by developer Andy Mangano of 720 homes is projected to see home prices ranging from $200,000 to $750,000, with most priced from $350,000 to $650,000 in today’s dollars.
Ending years of planning and debate and following four hours of discussion that drew public comments from about 60 people, the council gave its unanimous approval.
The project helps meet a high demand for more workforce housing, providing more homeownership opportunities for people who now commute to jobs here from outside the city, council members said.
“This project creates neighborhoods and supports our ability to have a stable economy for our businesses,” Councilwoman Andy Pease said. “I think this project supports our Climate Action Plan to be able to live where you work. It’s allowing multiple generations to be in our community, and that’s wonderful.”
The council heard comments from local residents struggling to pay for housing and employers in health care, insurance, and small business who attribute a lack of reasonably priced homes in San Luis Obispo to driving working families out of the county.
Council members felt the demand for housing superseded opponents’ arguments that the project would congest the city with traffic, take away agricultural land and contribute to changing the city’s character from a rural community to one with a more urban feel.
“I think it’s appropriate to acknowledge discomfort with this change,” Pease said. “It is sad to lose agriculture and to see a country road get super busy.”
But Councilman Aaron Gomez said that the city is facing a “major reality that housing is at a crisis” that’s affecting communities throughout California and the nation.
“It’s not just us,” Gomez said. “Our entire state feels it. You can’t avoid the problem by continuing to not build.”
The project is about two years away from beginning construction on its first phase of 179 homes after basic infrastructure is in place and some neighboring road improvements are completed, said Stephen Peck, the project’s planner.
The first homes would be ready for move-in in 2020, with the final phase projected to finish by 2024.
Thus far, about 1,500 people have signed up on the developer’s interest list, including about 1,200 local workers who will be given first preference to buy homes, Peck said.
The average home size will be 1,477 square feet, and all properties will come with solar panels that deliver all of the home’s electricity needs. The project was designed to include smaller-sized units to promote affordability.
The site is slated for 55 acres of housing, 21 acres of roads, 15,000 square feet of retail and office space, and 19 acres of parks. It leaves 52 acres of open space.
As part of the agreement, Mangano is footing the bill to extend Buckley Road from Vachell Lane so it connects directly to South Higuera, at a cost of about $7 million, Peck said.
That project must be completed before the second phase begins, which is expected to be in 2022.
Of the 720 homes, 67 will be deemed affordable under the city’s inclusionary housing program. 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). The county’s median income for a family of four is $83,200, according to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.
Additionally, 25 homes will be designated for “workforce housing,” which is defined as those making between 120 percent and 160 percent of the median income.
But Peck said a majority of the housing will be affordable to working people anyway.
I think it’s appropriate to acknowledge discomfort with this change. It is sad to lose agriculture and to see a country road get super busy.
Councilwoman Andy Pease
“Two-thirds of the 720 units would be in a reasonable price or rent range so that the cost of housing would not be an excessive burden,” Peck said.
The project also is planned to be the city’s first Community Facilities District, which would implement a special tax on homeowners within the project site to help pay for impacts to the community.
The tax would be between $100 to $300 per month, depending on home size. The tax would be in addition to standard property taxes.
The Community Facilities District still needs formal approval, and residents could vote against it, in which case homeowners’ association fees could be required to pay for those costs. But Peck doesn’t expect the CFD to fail, saying the rules to vote it down and replace it with a HOA are “arcane and detailed.”
In response to comments from bicyclists that Buckley Road is unsafe, Mayor Heidi Harmon vowed to work with the county to address safety and road improvement measures.
*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the approved Avila Ranch housing project will require annexation into San Luis Obispo. It is in city jurisdiction already.