San Luis Obispo grapples with growth-limiting ruling

The San Luis Obispo City Council is set to adopt an updated plan for future development in the city Tuesday, but must first grapple with overriding a ruling by the Airport Land Use Commission that seeks to limit much of the city’s planned growth.

At stake is the development of additional housing at the southern end of San Luis Obispo — something the city says is desperately needed.

A four-fifths vote of the City Council is needed Tuesday to override the Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC), which has decided that the city’s land use and circulation update of its General Plan is inconsistent with the ALUC’s airport safety plan.

Without the override, the General Plan update can’t be made.

It took nearly three years and $1.3 million to complete the land use and circulation update. A citizen panel called the Land Use and Circulation Element Update Task Force led the at-times arduous effort.

The majority of the cost was paid for by an $880,000 state grant; the rest was paid for using the city’s general fund. San Luis Obispo’s General Plan was last revised in 1994.

The city and the ALUC have been going head-to-head for years.

The ALUC is a seven-member autonomous committee created by the Public Utilities Code. It drafts safety plans for the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport that determine what type of development can occur around the airport, taking into account both safety and noise impacts, and protects the airport from development that would hinder its future operations.

The ALUC and Caltrans’ Division of Aeronautics both assert that the council is violating the law by adopting the land use update, and they’re hinting of future legal action. That’s something the council will discuss in closed session tonight prior to making its decision.

The city maintains that it is following all required state safety standards.

Recently, three of the seven commissioners serving on the ALUC encouraged the council to move forward with the overrule in private correspondence.

“I am aware of the fact that the city has a timeline they must meet in order to move forward approving the land use and circulation element update (LUCE) and because of that see the city has no other option but to override the ALUC at this time,” Michael Cripe wrote in an email last week.

Cripe went on to write that he would work with his fellow commissioners and city staff to find a compromise so that the council could ultimately rescind its override and the two entities could work cooperatively in the future.

Commissioners William Borgsmiller and Allen Settle of the ALUC also issued emails of support for the council to move forward with the land use update.

“I recognize the elected City Council must be able to control land uses within its jurisdiction and areas to be annexed within the urban reserve line,” Settle wrote.

However, Settle wrote that the ALUC can still require that projects within the jurisdiction of its safety plan come before the commission regardless of an overrule.

One longstanding member of the ALUC, who now serves as an alternate, continues to caution the council against the overrule.

Robert Tefft wrote that finding a compromise would be best and “reduce the likelihood of future determinations of inconsistency and potential overrules, avert the possibility of litigation, minimize the city’s liability, and provide landowners and project proponents a degree of assurance regarding the approval process for future developments.”

Several potential sites for development fall within the boundaries of the Airport Land Use Plan: the 150-acre Avila Ranch on the north side of Buckley Road, the 131-acre San Luis Ranch planned for the Dalidio property at the city’s southern gateway, and the 300-acre Chevron property along Tank Farm Road.

Those areas are either within city limits or in the city’s sphere of influence.

Under the current airport safety plan, residential development would be limited in stark contrast to what the city envisions for the future.

Several developers are poised to bring large projects forward to the city should the council approve the land use updates.

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