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Plan for 700-home Avila Ranch in SLO to face environmental review

Here's the area being proposed for the 150-acre Avila Ranch development, as seen from the corner of Vachell Lane and Buckley Road.
Here's the area being proposed for the 150-acre Avila Ranch development, as seen from the corner of Vachell Lane and Buckley Road. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Numerous environmental issues — water supply, noise, traffic, biological resources, air quality and others — must be studied before a large development can move ahead on San Luis Obispo’s southern end.

Eventually, city leaders will consider plans for the proposed 150-acre Avila Ranch that would have 700 homes of various types, a centrally located “town center” with up to 35,000 square feet of commercial space, and up to 19.7 acres of parks.

About 50 percent of the project, located on three separate parcels at the northeast corner of Buckley Road and Vachell Lane, would remain in open space.

The site, annexed to the city in 2008, is currently undeveloped. It has been continuously farmed for the past 100 years by the Avila family, according to a development plan submitted to the city, and would remain under a single ownership.

Though originally designated for a business park when annexed, the property is intended to be developed primarily as residential neighborhoods to add housing that city officials say is desperately needed.

The project would provide a range of housing to meet the needs of the community’s workforce, according to the development plan.

The project will be designed to appeal to families, homeowners and the local workforce — not students.

More than 450 units are expected to be affordable to families with moderate and “workforce” incomes, or 80 percent to 160 percent of the median family income.

The median household income in San Luis Obispo was $45,032 in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-13 five-year estimate.

The development plan envisions an integrated web of pedestrian and bicycle pathways to link future residents to existing restaurants, stores and other businesses in the area. A transit, trolley and vanpool stop would be included as part of the community’s town center.

Environmental review

Before plans for the project can be evaluated, the

San Luis Obispo Planning Commission

first must consider any issues that commissioners or the public want studied as part of the development’s environmental impact report. The commission did that Tuesday.

Comments on what should be included in the EIR will continue to be accepted through Sept. 14. A draft environmental document is expected to be released in the fall or winter, followed by a 45-day period comment period and hearings on the project and the final EIR next spring or summer.

The city hired Amec Foster Wheeler consultants to prepare the EIR. The project applicant, Avila Ranch LLC, will cover the cost.

Initial concerns

A few residents and planning commissioners said Tuesday that special attention should be paid to traffic issues, since the project could exacerbate already congested conditions around South Higuera Street at Los Osos Valley Road and the nearby Highway 101 interchange.

Improvements to Buckley Road are proposed along with the project, including an extension of the street to South Higuera Street.

“We need to see a beefy document or documentation dealing with that (traffic issues),” Commissioner Michael Draze said.

San Luis Obispo resident Lea Brooks, a member of Bike SLO County’s board of directors, wanted to know how the project will attempt to reach the city’s goal of 20 percent of all trips being made by bicycle.

Commissioner William Riggs suggested the EIR study population and housing to determine whether potential future residents would be displaced, or unable to live in the city, if the project does not provide appropriate types of housing.

Airport safety plan

Eventually, the project would also need to be formally reviewed by the

Airport Land Use Commission

after the draft EIR is released.

Last year, the airport commission found the city’s long-term land use plan, the Land Use and Circulation Element, to be inconsistent with the airport’s safety plan.

The City Council voted 4-1 in December to override the airport commission’s decision, allowing it to move ahead with plans for additional housing on the city’s southern end.

Kim Murry, the city’s deputy director of long-range planning, said the airport commission would review Avila Ranch to determine whether it is consistent with the airport safety plan.

She said the airport commission would delve into the details of the project: where the homes will be located, the open areas for potential landing areas in an emergency, and other issues.

“Through this review process, what we’re hoping is to get more detailed conversations going so we know what the project can work toward to hopefully end up with a consistency determination,” Murry said. “It’s a collaborative process when you get down to the project level like this.”

Get involved

Comments on what should be evaluated in the Avila Ranch environmental impact report are due Sept. 14. Email comments to planner John Rickenbach at

JFRickenbach@aol.com

or Doug Davidson, San Luis Obispo’s deputy director of development review, at

ddavidson@slocity.org

, with “Avila Ranch EIR” in the subject line. Or mail comments to Davidson at 919 Palm St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.

For information on Avila Ranch, go to www.slocity.org/government/department-directory/community-development/planning-zoning/specific-area-plans/avila-ranch.

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