Water topped a long list of concerns Thursday when the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission held a hearing about highly controversial plans to construct 101 homes at Laetitia Vineyard and Winery between Arroyo Grande and Nipomo.
The commission heard several hours of public comments — all in opposition to the development — but did not make a decision. Another hearing was set for Sept. 10.
The project, called the Reserve at Laetitia, includes plans for the 101 homes to be built on part of the 1,910-acre property, in what planners call an agricultural cluster, which allows residential development on farmland as long as the homes are clustered together and have minimal impact on surrounding agricultural uses. About 1,787 acres of the property would be preserved from further development.
County planning staff is recommending the project be denied because it violates numerous planning and development standards, including water demand and supply, residential density, access, fragmentation of agricultural operations and traffic congestion.
Specifically, the developers want to build 101 homes, but county regulations allow only 74, said Brian Pedrotti, the county planner for the project. The homes also are too spread out to qualify as an agricultural cluster, he said.
“The applicant has incorrectly calculated density,” he noted.
The developers, Janneck Limited, said they have modified the project to meet all of the county’s concerns. Project manager Vic Montgomery said the development would not result in any net loss of irrigated agriculture, and wastewater will be recycled to more than offset the water demands.
“All of the major impacts, except air quality, have been reduced,” he said. “The project is anticipated to generate $4.7 million in annual property tax revenue at full build-out.”
At the meeting, more than 15 members of the public urged the commission to deny the project. Planners also have received 104 letters in opposition since 2008, with 63 sent after the first environmental impact report was issued that year. Forty-one letters have been received for the current proposed project, many from the same writers.
Although many of these cited the same issues as the planners, the public focused on scarcity of water in the area. Many talked of well levels dropping or going dry in the area, as well as nearby Los Berros Creek drying up.
“This is the wrong development in the wrong location,” said Gordon Gill of Nipomo. “If we lose our water supply, we lose our homes.”
Hydrogeologists — including an independent one — county planners and the project’s environmental impact report have indicated there should be enough water. However, the county’s Water Resources Advisory Council and Department of Agriculture have said it is uncertain whether the four fractured rock wells that would be used to supply the project’s water could be counted on for a sustainable supply over the long term.
“It does seem uncertain that there is enough water to sustain agricultural production,” Lynda Auchinachie, a county agricultural resource specialist said Thursday.
Commission Chairman Ken Topping said the Sept. 10 hearing will be devoted to commissioners asking questions and deliberating. A limited amount of additional public comment on new issues raised since Thursday’s hearing will also be taken.
Any decision made by the Planning Commission is likely to be appealed to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.