San Luis Obispo City Council’s updates may help future housing projects

Three major areas of future development in southwestern San Luis Obispo could add hundreds of new homes — if the projects comply with land use rules the city is reworking. 

The San Luis Obispo City Council on Tuesday approved land use and related policy changes that will be evaluated in an in-depth environmental impact report, which will influence how the council may rewrite the city’s General Plan in upcoming months.

The General Plan is a 20-year blueprint for planning and regulating growth in the city.

Included in the environmental study will be three areas that will significantly affect the city once developed: the Dalidio Ranch adjacent to the SLO Promenade shopping center off Madonna Road, two parcels owned by John Madonna along Los Osos Valley Road near the Froom Ranch Shopping Center, and the Avila Ranch off Buckley Road.

On Jan. 28, the council will consider the circulation portion of the environmental report, such as road alignments, bike paths and pedestrian access.

A number of land use changes such as what types of buildings or homes will be allowed in specific locations are being considered. Those changes could be added to the city’s General Plan.

“We are presenting a vision for the future and guidance for future elected officials like the City Council and the Planning Commission,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “The update will also provide some certainty for residents and for developers who plan to propose projects.”

The environmental study will return to the council in May, along with an economic impact report.

The recommendations were compiled by the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element Update Task Force and the Planning Commission over the past 19 months.

Preliminary plans for Dalidio Ranch, now being called San Luis Ranch, have been submitted to the city and are in stark contrast to what had been planned for the controversial site in the past.

Developer Gary Grossman, who is in escrow for the 131-acre ranch, has proposed as many as 500 homes along with farmland and open space on the property. An enclave of commercial space capped at about 200,000 square feet, office space and a 200-room hotel are also planned.

The city’s General Plan now requires that 50 percent of the property be preserved as agricultural open space.

At the developer’s request, the council agreed to study the possibility of allowing a small portion of the required open space, up to 10 acres, to be fulfilled offsite by another property with similar agricultural and visual components.

Housing is also envisioned for the two parcels, comprised of 111 acres, owned by John Madonna along Los Osos Valley Road near the Froom Ranch Shopping Center.

No plans have been submitted to the city, but as many as 250 homes and up to 350,000 square feet of commercial space have been discussed.

Councilman John Ashbaugh said he would like that project to include less commercial and more housing.

Kim Murry, the city’s deputy director of long-range planning, said the land use update will guide that development by setting parameters such as trail connections, updated roads and a mix of residential and commercial uses.

“It will tie in that whole end of town,” she said.

The remaining large swath of land available for future development is the 150-acre Avila Ranch, on the north side of Buckley Road at the southern edge of the city.

No development plans have been submitted, but up to 600 homes, with an emphasis on affordable housing, and up to 25,000 square feet of commercial space has been discussed.

The possibility of reducing the amount of required open space to allow for more affordable homes to be built on the property will be studied in the environmental impact report.

Councilman Dan Carpenter said the property is a great location for affordable housing and that the tradeoff is one he is willing to consider.

“If something has to give, I am willing to do it here,” Carpenter said.

The majority of the council concurred.

However, Marx was adamant against allowing less open space.

“We need both,” Marx said. “It is really bad planning policy to allow for affordable housing as a trade-off to open space.”

All three areas would also require a specific plan and additional environmental studies before development could occur.