Nearly 250 apartments, commercial space on Tank Farm Road gets OK by SLO Council

These are some of the issues behind California’s housing crisis

California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.
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California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.

The San Luis Obispo City Council gave the go-ahead to a mixed-use development that would add 249 rental homes and 17,500 square feet of commercial space near the corner of Tank Farm Road and Broad Street.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday night in support of a zoning change and mobile home park conversion as part of the project’s conceptual vision that would make way for 50 studios, 50 one-bedroom apartments and 149 two-bedroom apartments at 650 Tank Farm — with the condition that those who live and work in the city are given first preference at the housing.

Home sizes on average would range from 450 to 1,000 square feet, according to the city’s staff report.

Santa Barbara-based Agera Grove Investments, LLC submitted the project application, with hopes to start construction in 2020 after further design planning and city advisory review.

A local preference program could be offered by Agera, which is affiliated with a Bakersfield parent company, as a way to help people live where they work and reduce commuter trips and greenhouse gases.

Locals have been offered first dibs at other SLO projects, such as the 580-home San Luis Ranch development, now under construction along Madonna Road.

“It seems like there’s no reason to not to have a local preference on a project like this,” San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said. “Even if it’s not legally binding, we have the need. I can’t imagine there would be a negative impact on (the developer’s) bottom line, and I think it is incumbent for us to advocate for local community and local working people.”

The city currently has about 70 development projects that are either in the planning review, building permitting review or construction stages, according to its website.

They include some of the largest housing projects in decades — such as the Avila Ranch mixed-use development off Buckley Road, which is approved for 720 homes — as the city moves closer to its planned build-out to a population of 57,000.

Another proposed project that neighbors 650 Tank Farm, NWC Broad Street Mixed Use, would be located at the corner of Tank Farm and Broad Street. That project calls for 111 assisted living suites and 28 memory care beds.

That concept is in the planning stages, though multiple San Luis Obispo planning commissioners previously expressed concerns that the site was better suited for workforce housing than senior care units.

What is the Tank Farm proposal?

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed mixed-use project at 650 Tank Farm Road in San Luis Obispo. RRM Design Group

The proposed Tank Farm development sits on a 12.75-acre site located across from Mindbody’s business complex and near the Marigold Center, Damon Garcia Sports Fields and bus services.

The proposal, which currently consisted of 16 three-story residential buildings, calls for 39 affordable, deed-restricted units and 500 parking spaces, meeting the city’s minimum parking requirement for the project.

Price ranges on the market-rate units haven’t yet been determined.

“This project really addresses the jobs/housing imbalance in SLO,” said Pam Ricci of RRM Design Group, the developer’s consultant. “It’s located close to existing services. It really makes sense.”

The commercial spaces would include small-scale convenience and food services, such as coffee shops and restaurants, Ricci said, as well as amenities such as a play yard.

The property once had 35 mobile home units; currently 13 mobile homes occupy the site. Current residents would be provided home relocation compensation by the developer and offered first right of refusal to live in the new rental units.

Avila Ranch is a 720-home development proposed for more than 60 acres of land off Buckley Road in southern San Luis Obispo. Here's an animation of what the project will look like. Video courtesy of Steve Peck, the project planning consultant for d

How Tank Farm project fits with city goals

Michael Codron, San Luis Obispo community development director, said the Tank Farm site wasn’t identified in the city’s Housing Element planning. But he said the proposal is compliant with airport land-use policies that apply to development within close proximity to the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Of the 39 affordable units proposed by Agera Grove Investments, 17 were identified to serve those in the “workforce housing” category — the income levels of which aren’t defined by any city policy.

San Luis Obispo County identifies “workforce housing” as that which serves those earning up to 160 percent of median income, which Ricci suggested could be used as a standard.

But multiple city council members supported the city staff’s recommendation for Agera to provide more affordable housing to people of lower incomes.

“I love the idea of having more rentals. I love the location and for more people to have access to housing where it’s close to a lot of amenities,” council member Erica Stewart said. “But I think unfortunately, it gives that picture of a big bad developer who comes in and displaces all the poor people.”

Recommendations on the table

The city would like to see 13 “very low,” six “low” and 20 “moderately” priced homes. Those tiered inclusionary housing categories apply to household income levels of $41,600 to $99,850 for a family of four, which would pay no more than 30 percent of their income for housing, under the city’s 2018 standards.

That would also help the city achieve its regional housing mandate under the state Regional Housing Needs Allocation process.

San Luis Obispo officials said the city overall has currently met 58 percent of its “extremely low and very low” affordable housing units, 17 percent of “low” units and 6 percent of “moderate” units, while it is at 168 percent at the “above moderate” level.

Members of the public expressed concerns about traffic impacts, flooding and neighborhood parking spillover into Damon Garcia, which can already get filled to capacity with cars on busy days.

Grading plans and traffic circulation planning would help alleviate some of those concerns, according to the city’s staff.

“As a soccer coach there on Saturdays, the parking is more than impacted,” San Luis Obispo resident Sarah Flickinger said. “We spill over into the SESLOC (credit union) parking as it is. If you have housing that is at all under-parked, you’re going to have residents parking in that area and then walking into the neighborhood.”

The next steps for planning are a design review by the Architectural Review Commission and a final design review and use permit determination by the Planning Commission.

An environmental impact report already has been completed.

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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.