Group questions 'mega-developments' proposed in Avila Beach

Members of Concerned Citizens for Avila have concerns about proposed developments around Avila Beach, including plans for the former Unocal tank farm property now owned by Chevron.
Members of Concerned Citizens for Avila have concerns about proposed developments around Avila Beach, including plans for the former Unocal tank farm property now owned by Chevron. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Correction: A previous version of this story said Concerned Citizens was attempting to update the Avila Beach specific plan. They are petitioning to update the general area plan, which was adopted by the county in 1980.

Avila Beach is known for its laid-back lifestyle, but one group of residents is working to preserve that way of life in the face of five major development proposals that could bring thousands more tourists and residents to the small beach town.

"We want to keep our precious image for everyone," said Rose Hansen as she sipped her coffee on a foggy Wednesday morning at Joe Momma's Coffee on Front Street in Avila Beach. "It's not just for us. We're doing it for future generations, for everyone."

Hansen and Sherri Danoff, both residents of Avila Valley, are some of the masterminds behind Concerned Citizens for Avila, a grassroots group questioning what they call "mega-developments" proposed in and around Avila Beach. They are asking the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to update the area's general plan before approving any large developments.

County Supervisor Adam Hill, who represents the area, said he expects that an updated general plan will be done. "I think that a new plan will probably actually happen," Hill said. "It's something we've been looking at for a while."

Concerned Citizens was founded by fellow Avila resident Ann Feeser because of concerns about the proposed Wild Cherry Canyon development in Avila Valley, Danoff said. The three women organized a town hall-style forum with residents and county officials in April to discuss the potential impacts of the project, which calls for up to 1,500 new homes on 240 acres in the hills of rural Avila.

Before the meeting, the group realized there were four other large developments in the works, Danoff said: Harbor Terrace campground at Port San Luis, a potential resort development at a Chevron-owned property on Avila Point, an Avila Beach Golf Resort expansion and a prospective hotel development at Ontario Road.

Of the five, only Harbor Terrace has gone to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission, which unanimously approved the 34-acre campground project in March. That decision has been appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which is expected to consider the appeal June 16.

Close to 175 people attended the group's town hall meeting, Hansen said, and since then nearly double that number have signed up to receive updates about the new developments.

The general worry many share is how the developments would impact traffic and safety, Danoff said.

Avila has essentially one road in and out of the area — Avila Beach Drive — though San Luis Bay Drive does connect the homes in San Luis Bay Estates and other portions of Avila Valley to Highway 101.

During tourist season, traffic on San Luis Bay Drive can stretch back to the Pirates Cove turnoff, so adding developments would only increase that backup, Danoff said.

The road also serves as one of the only ways out of the area in the event of a problem at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, she said.

"What's really the underlying problem here is that we don't have the appropriate access for additional development, and there is nothing being planned for additional access," Danoff said. "That's just ridiculous."

To solve this, the group says it will petition the county for a new general plan for Avila Beach. The last general plan for the area was adopted by the county in 1980.

Danoff said the new plan would hopefully address traffic and set out specific guidelines for new developments. Danoff and Hansen said they hope the county would also consider halting any potential development until after the new general plan is approved.

"Our focus is just to bring people together to discuss the future, to plan for it, because there isn't an updated plan for it," Danoff said. "If it turns out that people want to increase the access and it can be done in a manner that is acceptable, then we would want to consider it, but right now it seems absolutely preposterous to be considering further development."

Hill, the 3rd District supervisor, said updating the Avila Beach general plan has "been on his radar for some time." He said he hopes to have the idea brought before the Board of Supervisors sometime in October when it can address some of the board's goals again.

So far the Concerned Citizens' petition has about 300 signatures, Hansen said. Several copies of the petition are posted throughout the town's businesses for residents to pick up and pass out among their neighbors and friends, she said.

"I believe that all of us, whether we are a resident, whether we are a worker, whether we are a tourist, that we really want the best thing for our community," Hansen said. "And it extends beyond Avila. I do think it extends beyond just Avila Beach, into the county community. We live in a paradise, and we have a responsibility to it."