Paso Robles tells homes developer to proceed

Plans for hundreds of new homes on Paso Robles’ southeast corner are finally moving along again after a three-year standstill. The City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to push forward with the proposed Olsen Ranch and Beechwood developments by allowing the property owners to hire a new design firm.

That firm is slated to file a proposal to the city for review, although a time frame wasn’t given.

Mayor Duane Picanco noted that the previous firm’s work will be incorporated into the new plans. The density is said to remain the same.

The Olsen Beechwood concept began about nine years ago when the city approached the property owners about annexing their agricultural land for housing. That formed two projects, called Olsen Ranch and Beechwood, with about a dozen property owners.

“It’s been a long road,” Mike Harrod, one of the property owners, said at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he’s looking forward to the project picking up again.

The land was annexed in 2004. The project began in 2005 as a “city-initiated development” of two communities with small lots, narrow streets and alleys. A village-type commercial area would also have shops for goods such as groceries and coffee.

But a traffic issue and the recession stalled plans in early 2008.

The original plan called for about 1,300 homes in two communities on about 500 acres with commercial space near Meadowlark and Creston roads.

That’s still the case, although there are a few changes now.

In addition to the new design firm, costs are also being paid in a different manner. The city can’t afford to complete the projects’ studies, which need updating, so the property owners have agreed to pay.

Before the standstill, the city hired the Pasadena-based firm Moule & Polyzoides to design the developments. The city also funded a study to determine how such growth could impact the environment.

The parties originally agreed that the city would fund those studies in exchange for fee reimbursements from the developments.

But as the studies gathered information, the city hit a snag.

The studies were “indicating that the project would require mitigation measures far in excess of what would be fundable and feasible,” city planner Susan DeCarli said, such as a third crossing bridge over the Salinas River.

Staff would need to update the citywide traffic plan before Olsen Beechwood could continue. In February, the city’s new traffic plan was complete. It offers more bike paths, public transit areas and pedestrian routes, among other things, DeCarli said.

Now that the property owners must fund the studies, they want to use another design firm, she said.Some of the Beechwood property owners consulted with Folsom-based Studio 81 during the standstill.

Studio 81 rearranged the pattern of some homes, lessened the number of alleyways and relocated the commercial area south to Airport Road.