Proposed dorm-like development near Cal Poly is bad for traffic and views, appeal says

A rendering of the proposed project at 790 E. Foothill Blvd. in San Luis Obispo.
A rendering of the proposed project at 790 E. Foothill Blvd. in San Luis Obispo.

A four-story building proposal in San Luis Obispo that includes 78 dorm-like residential units near Cal Poly has been appealed by two community members.

Former City Council candidate James Lopes and SLO resident Odile Ayral filed the appeal against the development at 790 Foothill Blvd., saying it would cause significant traffic and parking problems, block views and ignore public comments from area residents.

They also claim it would cater to students, ignoring the need for workforce housing, similar to two other nearby projects from the same developer.

The project is one of three in the Foothill area near Cal Poly that El Segundo-based developer Loren Riehl of LR Real Estate Investment Group has submitted, including 71 Palomar Ave. and 22 Chorro St., which were approved after controversy (construction on 22 Chorro project has been completed and opened this fall).

foothill rendering.jpg
A rendering of the proposed four-story, mixed-use development at 790 Foothill Blvd. in San Luis Obispo. City of SLO

The development at 22 Chorro, which has many vacancies, offers bedrooms with screen partitions dividing rooms into two spaces for beds. Spaces are priced at $1,290 to $1,425 per month.

Lopes and Ayral filed the appeal of the Planning Commission’s partial approval of the 790 Foothill proposal at a July meeting in advance of the council’s review of the project Jan. 15.

“This project will create significant traffic and parking problems in the neighborhood,” Lopes said. “And this project will entirely block the view of Bishop Peak. And the decision to allow higher density doesn’t have to happen.”

The project would demolish four existing buildings — including the structures housing Black Horse Espresso & Bakery and a former McDonald’s restaurant, which is now vacant — and replace them with the new structure.

Riehl is requesting incentives that would allow him to exceed certain standards because he’s proposing 12 deed-restricted studios for renters in the very-low-income household category, which according to the city’s 2017 standards are single residents who earn up to $28,600 per year and pay a maximum of $728 in monthly rent.

At the Planning Commission meeting, the project was approved but forwarded for review by the City Council for specific allowances. Those included requests to exceed the allowable 35-feet height in that zone — the proposal is for 43 feet — and to occupy 90 percent of the 1.33-acre lot with buildings, compared with the city’s standard of 75 percent for that zone.

“Most importantly, the city adopted a Land Use Element that directed how this property should be used moving forward, and it’s zoned for this type of project,” Riehl previously told The Tribune.

In response to public criticisms that the housing component of the development likely would serve only students and not provide adequate affordable housing, Riehl said at the July meeting that the city needs “all kinds of housing in all kinds of places.”

“In the worst-case scenario, if all tenants have cars, there will be a shortfall of 313 on-site parking spaces,” Lopes and Ayral wrote. “... By approving this project as submitted, you will be reducing public safety by increasing congestion on public streets and depleting available on-street parking.”

Lopes and Ayral wrote the project should be required to go through a California Environmental Quality Act review, a more rigorous planning process for determining consistency with environmental laws, and that it doesn’t qualify for exemptions, as the developer claims.

They also don’t believe it would serve the needs of working-class families.

“The area near this intersection includes Pacheco Elementary School with a large number of struggling families, two shopping centers with many minimum-wage employees, and Sierra Vista hospital with a wide range of salaries,” they wrote. “This location is therefore perfect for real workforce housing that would include one- and two-bedroom low-income apartments with parking.”

City planners are preparing a staff report that will be available for public review next week, said Associate Planner Rachel Cohen.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.