Two prominent Central Coast developers are in escrow to buy the controversial Dalidio Ranch and are quietly circulating development plans among San Luis Obispo’s top leaders.
Clint Pearce of Madonna Enterprises and Gary Grossman of Coastal Community Builders have a vision for the $19.7 million, 131-acre ranch that includes workforce housing, commercial space, a hotel and convention center, a high-tech office center, an organic farm and dedicated open space.
The plans are the first to emerge for the ranch west of Highway 101 since embattled property owner Ernie Dalidio abandoned his efforts to develop it after more than 20 years of fighting.
“We are talking with the city to see what can be done,” Pearce said. “Everything is preliminary at this point. Escrow is expected to close by the end of the year.”
The property is the only one of its kind in San Luis Obispo because of its prominent location and development potential. It is next to the SLO Promenade shopping center on Madonna Road anchored by Bed Bath & Beyond and Cost Plus World Market.
Both developers say the project will be drastically different from what the property potentially could accommodate following Measure J in 2006.
That measure called for developing 530,000 square feet of retail development and 60 housing units. Their project would focus more on residential, Pearce said.
Grossman describes the project as farmland, open space, winding roads leading to affordably designed houses, and an architecturally attractive hotel. The number of homes planned was not available Friday.
Preliminary plans now show 35 acres of single-family homes, 8.3 acres of high-density housing such as condos or apartments, 15.7 acres of commercial, a 6-acre hotel and convention center, a 6-acre high-tech center; a 35-acre organic farm adjacent to the city-owned farm; 15 acres of open space and 10 acres of roads and infrastructure.
Pearce said that because the project is more focused on residential than commercial development, the interchange at Prado Road once required may not be needed. However, an overpass is being discussed.
The development approvals for the ranch are in the county’s jurisdiction. The property would likely be annexed into the city.
“Building in the city is our preference, and what we would like to see happen,” Pearce said. “We like the city, and the city is where urbanization should happen.”
Imminent hurdles include proposing more houses than the airport land-use commission allows, reserving 15 fewer acres of open space than required by the city and convincing residents that this development is one they are willing to accept.
Grossman and Pearce both say they wanted the opportunity to shape the property’s future and prevent an out-of-town developer from building something with little regard for the city’s ambiance.
“We are not looking at this as only an economic opportunity to develop, but as more of a legacy project that would make our city leaders happy and provide something to citizens,” Grossman said. “This is not just a shopping center, but a neighborhood demonstrative of what we are about. I don’t think someone from outside like Newport Beach or Los Angeles would know or understand the area as strongly as we do. That is why we got involved.”
The opposition Dalidio faced when he tried to develop the property came from environmental groups and downtown businesses in San Luis Obispo who feared shoppers would be drawn away from downtown.
Dalidio once had plans for a Target and Old Navy, but both stores were built on nearby properties owned by Madonna Enterprises as Dalidio’s plans stalled.
In 2005, San Luis Obispo voters stopped the proposed development from happening in the city. Behind the scenes, prominent downtown business owners Jim and Tom Copeland were financially fueling the opposition. Dalidio won the right to build in 2006, thanks to the countywide Measure J. Superior Court Judge Roger Piquet invalidated the measure two years later, but the state Court of Appeal overturned his ruling in 2009.
“We are hoping that a lot of the issues were vetted over the last 20 years,” Grossman said.
“We learned a lot of what people did and didn’t like, and are hoping some new blood will give the project a fresh new approach.”
Dalidio could not be reached for comment Friday.