Morro Bay developer set back

A developer may have to either redesign or scrap his planned high-density residential subdivision on an environmentally sensitive area in Morro Bay after a local group won a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission.

The commission had approved a development by Wayne Colmer and his Black Hill Villas L.P. to build 16 two-story homes, a two-story duplex and a common area on about 3 acres at South Bay Boulevard and Quintana Road. Two homes currently on the site would be removed for the new project.

The site is problematic for development because it contains critical habitat including a tributary of the estuary, suspected wetlands and foraging territory for nesting raptors. Construction would disrupt the habitats, including grading of nearly 7,000 cubic yards of soil to create building pads for the houses, according to a ruling issued by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall on June 21.

Save The Park, a Morro Bay-based organization whose stated purpose is to protect parks and natural resources, sued the California Coastal Commission in 2008 for giving permission for Colmer to disrupt the environmentally sensitive habitat and for not requiring adequate setbacks from important wetlands or other protected areas.

The property abuts the Morro Bay State Park. Drainage from the Black Hill natural area on or near the intended residential project goes into the Chorro restoration area and ultimately Morro Bay, according to court filings.

“He didn’t identify the boundaries of sensitive areas and if they’re not identified, they can’t be protected,” said Cynthia Hawley, a Cambria environmental protection attorney representing Save the Park.

The Coastal Commission, which originally approved the project, is now compelled to remove its approval, and Colmer must identify wetlands or other sensitive areas on the map of his property.

Wherever they are, he will probably have to build at least 100 feet from them, Hawley said.

Colmer said he was surprised by the decision and isn’t sure what he’ll do until he sits down with the judge at another hearing at the end of July or early August.

“It could be all or nothing for the project,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Save the Park representatives, including Morro Bay mayoral candidate Betty Winholtz, Ray McKelligott and Roger Ewing, were not available for comment.