Vote on Spanish Springs project proposed for Price Canyon is delayed

This view looking south shows a portion of Price Canyon in 2011 where 961 acres could eventually be annexed into Pismo Beach and developed.
This view looking south shows a portion of Price Canyon in 2011 where 961 acres could eventually be annexed into Pismo Beach and developed. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Pismo Beach City Council will discuss a controversial proposal Tuesday to develop about 960 acres in Price Canyon, but it won’t vote on the project.

The council was expected to determine whether to approve a slew of documents that would guide development of the Spanish Springs project. It includes residential homes, senior housing, a 150-room hotel, vineyards and numerous public parks and trails on several properties spread over

961 acres north of the city limits and east of Price Canyon Road.

Instead, city staff is recommending that the project be continued to a future meeting to allow council members more time to review the project and recent changes that could be made to it.

Doing so will also allow the developer, Stephen Hester of Southern California-based land investment and development firm West Coast Housing Partners, to hold community meetings on the project.

“It is critical to provide time for the public to understand the project and the changes being made by the developer,” Jim Lewis, Pismo Beach’s new city manager, said in a news release. “It is also important for the developer to receive formal feedback and recommendations from the City Council which they have not had a chance to do yet.”

The project has been revised since the council’s Feb. 5 meeting, with the number of proposed senior housing units decreased from 320 units to 120. Also, the developer now proposes 416 single-family homes and 73 multifamily units.

Hester has proposed to move the senior housing component so it is farther away from the existing neighborhood off Highland Drive, where neighbors have expressed concerns about traffic and other impacts. It would instead be near the proposed hotel.

In addition, he’s proposing to create an assessment district within the residential areas of the project to cover any shortfall between services costs and the revenue generated by the project.

On Tuesday, the council will have a chance to provide feedback and ask questions. It will also hear answers to some questions raised at its Feb. 5 meeting, including more information about the senior housing; impacts to Highland Drive, which would become a main access road to the lower part of the proposed development; and further discussion of the project’s fiscal analysis.

There’s also a section in the staff report aimed at answering a question posed in February by Mayor Shelly Higginbotham: What happens if nothing is built in Price Canyon?

In the short-term, very little would change, according to the staff report by Community Development Director Jon Biggs. The land would remain undeveloped, used in some areas for agriculture, and unavailable for public use.

However, whoever eventually owns the property could choose to develop it, if not in the city, then through San Luis Obispo County — which would likely mean larger lots served by on-site wells and individual septic systems.

“If development occurs under county standards, there would be no certainty of designated open space, no agricultural or open space conservation easements, or permanent protection of such resources,” Biggs wrote. “The end result may jeopardize water quality and riparian habitat, other biological resources, cultural resources and visual resources.”

In addition, Hester has agreed to pay for an upgrade to the city’s wastewater treatment plant to provide recycled water, and to obtain additional state water.

Some local residents opposed to the project have wondered whether the city needs more housing. In the staff report, Biggs notes that while there are 1,266 vacant housing units in the city, 82 percent are seasonal or vacation homes.

That leaves 224 vacant nonvacation units, of which 160 are rental units.

“This suggests that additional housing will be needed to increase the city’s long-term for-sale housing inventory,” Biggs wrote.

Because the project is outside the Pismo Beach city limits, it would have to be annexed into the city before being developed.

That step would come later, and only after the council approved documents including an environmental impact report, a fiscal impact analysis and a development agreement between the city and the project owner, a limited liability corporation called BHT II Pismo. The LLC is managed by West Coast Housing Partners.

Tuesday’s meeting will be held at the Pismo Beach Veterans Memorial Building, 780 Bello St. It will start at 5:30 p.m.

For a copy of the staff report, go to www.pismobeach.org.