Proposed Paso Robles development to study water, traffic impacts

Landowners proposing a major project in Paso Robles can continue their pursuit to build hundreds of new homes on the city’s southeast side.

Even still, final consideration of the development could be at least two years away, Mayor Duane Picanco said.

The Beechwood development, which originally had 674 housing units allowed in the city’s master plan for growth, is now proposing to build 963 new residences on small lots with narrow streets and alleys and about five acres of commercial development off Creston Road and Beechwood Drive.

The project’s applicants are property owners Tom Erskine and Mike Harrod of Paso Robles and Jay Heubner of San Luis Obispo. They are working with a handful of other property owners as well, community development director Ed Gallagher said.

Recent plans called for increasing the project’s initial number of units to 1,011 homes, but that plan was thrown out to accommodate recent site design changes recommended by the city’s Planning Commission.

After reviewing the latest plans at an Oct. 29 workshop, the City Council voted to allow the project to go forward with lengthy studies over the next 12 to 18 months to see how the development could affect existing neighborhoods, the environment and the city’s water supply.

During the workshop, the public raised concerns about water and traffic. Those topics, along with others, will be studied.

“In concept, we’re supportive,” Picanco said of the development. “But they have no guarantees. Because we only have a concept of what they’re doing, they need to come back with more details and we’ll see what the studies say.”

Since the project has been included in the city’s long-range planning, its water use has been accounted for, according to the city’s planning department. However, the Beechwood owners have to fund a water study to prove that the city has enough water for the additional units they want, Gallagher has said.

Among the Planning Commission’s recommended changes were that parks and open space should supplement proposed trails and that play areas be maintained by a homeowners association since city resources are limited.

The commission also suggested breaking up larger neighborhood blocks with more streets.

In a workshop staff report, city planners said the current setup makes “the neighborhood less walkable and safe.” Shorter blocks encourage people to walk and motorists to slow down, city planning manager Susan DeCarli said.

The project was initially one of two housing developments commonly known in the community as the “Olsen-Beechwood project,” which the city annexed land for about a decade ago. A lagging construction market during the recession caused the joint projects to stall. Today, the ideas are going forward as separate endeavors.