The developer of San Luis Obispo’s 720-home Avila Ranch will pay nearly $700,000 to address concerns about traffic, flooding and noise impacts after settling a lawsuit filed by two neighborhood groups.
Developer Andy Mangano’s company Avila Ranch LLC and the groups Preserve the SLO-Life and Los Verdes I and II (representing two separate groups of neighbors and community members) settled the lawsuit in late January; it claimed the developer and city hadn’t adequately addressed environmental impacts under state law when the project was approved last fall. The settlement admits no fault.
Avila Ranch LLC signed off on a set of payments totaling $678,000 that aim to benefit the neighborhood and general public beyond what the city approved as part of the developer’s fair share agreement to mitigate environmental impacts.
“The agreement was the result of give and take and negotiations,” said Steve Peck, Avila Ranch’s planning consultant. “We are satisfied with the outcome, since our principal concern, after six years in the entitlement process (the city planning process that decides a project’s approval), is to build the needed housing as soon as possible.”
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The city of San Luis Obispo, also named in the suit, has no financial obligations but will play a monitoring role and be closely involved in assessment and execution of any public works projects paid for through developer funding.
“Our big issue has been infrastructure and circulation,” said Kathy Borland, representing Preserve the SLO Life. “Developers are not expected to do it all. The city and the county are not stepping up. We had no choice, and we had to do something. Preserve the SLO Life and Los Verdes got concessions and got something out of it. We were happy with what we got.”
Mangano’s payments toward the improvements include the following:
▪ $275,000 for improvements (to be determined by the city and Los Verdes residents) to reduce traffic noise around the Los Verdes developments (the housing complex is located near the intersection of South Higuera and Los Osos Valley Road)
▪ $75,000 for added traffic safety features and signs along Buckley Road, measures to be determined at the discretion of the Buckley area residents and the county (Buckley Road is in county jurisdiction).
▪ $58,000 for a traffic signal or a High Intensity Activated Crosswalk or “HAWK” pedestrian signal at Los Verdes Drive and Los Osos Valley Road, if deemed necessary by a study. Avila Ranch LLC is paying for the “study” of that intersection to determine what is appropriate from a traffic safety standpoint.
▪ $270,000 for intersection improvements at Davenport Creek and Buckley Road (the lawsuit agreement mentions this, but it was already in the city’s approved development agreement and the petitioners wanted confirmation, according to Peck).
The agreement comes with stipulations on time frames and meetings between the city, developer and community groups to fulfill the terms.
Peck said Avila Ranch LLC has been proceeding with the project and its now in the engineering design phase.
“We expect (engineering design) to be complete this year, and construction of the various streets and infrastructure some time early near year, with housing construction towards the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020,” Peck said. “That was the schedule that is in our adopted plan.”
The first phase of 179 homes will be completed between 2020 and 2022, with the first move-ins expected sometime in 2020. Those homes are expected to include a few restricted for low-income residents, costing around $375,000; a few in the low $400,000s; and the rest ranging from $450,000 to $550,000, though prices haven’t been set, Peck said.
The proposed project expected to see home prices ranging from $200,000 to $750,000, with most priced from $350,000 to $650,000 in today’s dollars, though those prices weren’t guaranteed.
Borland said that residents in her group, which includes about 60 to 80 people, became concerned with the project’s impacts on traffic in particular, saying that cars and cyclists will be congested and stalled, creating safety hazards, particularly during peak commute times. And they worry the new housing will create a potential for flooding.
“The developer seemed to have carte blanche,” Borland said. “Who is suffering? Us, the constituents.”
Borland noted that the City Council unanimously approved the project with several overriding considerations. Under state law, a city council may use its discretion to determine that even though the development would result in unavoidable adverse impacts, specific economic, social or other stated benefits were sufficient to warrant project approval.
“This project creates neighborhoods and supports our ability to have a stable economy for our businesses,” Councilwoman Andy Pease said in her support of the project at a September council meeting. “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.”
San Luis Obispo City Attorney Christine Dietrick said the city’s environment impact report, which included hundreds of pages of planning assessments and project impact mitigations, addressed the issues “to the extent that we thought reasonable and appropriate.”
“I’m not ever happy for the city to be sued,” Dietrick said. “I am confident in the integrity of (the environmental impact report) document. But I am happy this lawsuit was not prolonged and didn’t cause a further resource drain on the city.”