SLO senior housing may be a good idea in the wrong place, commissioners say

A rendering of the proposed Villaggio retirement community in San Luis Obispo.
A rendering of the proposed Villaggio retirement community in San Luis Obispo.

A proposed 534-home development that includes a community for affluent retirees in San Luis Obispo may still be in its early draft plan form, but it could face major hurdles from the city’s Planning Commission.

Commissioner Hemalata Dandekar said at a meeting Wednesday she’s not sure if the Villaggio “life plan” village project in its current form is the the best use of the site, 110 acres along Los Osos Valley Road that’s part of the Froom Ranch development plan, despite her support for a retirement community somewhere in the city.

“What we have here is a gated community for a perfectly good cause — for well-to-do senior people who would like to have a good place to be, and I’m totally for that,” Dandekar said. “But I’m not sure or convinced this is the right place for this project from a city land-use perspective.”

Among the concerns, commissioners called into question construction of homes above a 150-foot elevation line on the hillside that abuts the Irish Hills.

The commission also remarked on the project’s total number of homes exceeding city General Plan guidelines, the project’s emergency access to prepare for floods or fires and a proposed gated perimeter, among other considerations.

The project at 12165 and 12393 Los Osos Valley Road — across the road from the car dealerships — calls for 404 homes that would serve residents of Villaggio, where seniors would live independently and also have access to assisted care (38 units are for assisted living) and memory care. Villaggio is made up of a group of more than 20 investors who will share ownership stake.

A separate portion of the project, proposed by JM Development Group, calls for 130 homes and apartments.

The project also proposes 30,000 square feet of commercial space, a 70,000-square-foot hotel, and 2.9-acre park.

The commission also heard from about 15 speakers who expressed their desire to spend their retirement years living independently but also near amenities and assisting living and memory care services as their health deteriorates. The complex also would provide food, utilities, transportation, entertainment, laundry and fitness.

Speakers noted that 330 people have signed up to live in Villaggio.

“My wife and I are at the end of the line and don’t have someone to step in and take care of us in our old age,” said John Eichler, a San Luis Obispo retiree. “We love the community and don’t plan on leaving. ... The project is important to us. I would urge you to expedite it as much as you can.”

A rendering of the proposed Villaggio retirement community in San Luis Obispo. Villaggio San Luis Obispo

Commissioners emphasized that no decision would be made Wednesday, saying they still haven’t yet reviewed an environmental impact report or detailed lot plans.

But commissioners made clear that building a portion of the project above the 150-feet elevation line is a concern.

“For me, at this point, and I haven’t seen the EIR, it’s a total non-starter above the 150-foot elevation line,” Stevenson said. “The project needs to be designed in such a way that it’s built at a lower elevation.”

Dandekar also expressed concern about fencing around the Villaggio property.

“You have fencing up there that blocks wildlife corridors,” Stevenson said. “That’s not something that I think is compatible with this type of development.”

The city’s Land Use Element calls for a maximum of 350 housing units on the site, and the project is seeking to exceed that number by 184, prompting commissioner John Fowler to comment that it has “varied quite a bit” from the General Plan, though the City Council may allow it with an amendment to that policy.

Fowler also recommended proposing smaller housing sizes, pointing to the 113 homes that are between 1,700 and 2,000 square feet.

Project planning consultant Pamela Ricci told The Tribune in an email that when the City Council initiated consideration of the project in April 2016, it acknowledged the number of residential units would exceed the number laid out in the General Plan, as well as having less commercial space.

Ricci noted that a proposal to build below the 150-foot elevation line would require building heights to be taller to accommodate the same housing unit count. Ricci said that the flooding issues above the 150-foot line have been carefully studied, as well, and the developer is coordinating with the Fire Department on how best to address those concerns.

She said that fencing will provide a “a safe and secure living environment” for aging residents.

“There may be other solutions that could happen with less emphasis on a ‘gate’ and more emphasis on greeting and giving directions to campus visitors, deliveries, etc.,” Ricci said.

She said that though 113 of the units are between 1,700 and 2,000 square feet, the majority are significantly smaller in size, and the project isn’t considering any floor reductions.

A total of 27 units of affordable homes are required by the city, and “the applicant intends to partner with an affordable housing builder to meet or exceed this requirement,” Ricci said.

The developer’s goal is to begin construction mid-2020.

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