SLO to study San Luis Ranch project impacts

In a view from the hill adjacent to Laguna Lake Park, the former Dalidio Ranch property reaches from the edge of the SLO Promenade to Highway 101.
In a view from the hill adjacent to Laguna Lake Park, the former Dalidio Ranch property reaches from the edge of the SLO Promenade to Highway 101. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Plans for a residential and commercial development on a 131-acre property treasured for its historical agriculture use are moving ahead in San Luis Obispo.

At a public meeting Wednesday, the city’s Planning Commission sought feedback on potential impacts — such as traffic, water supply and flooding — that should be studied as part of environmental documents being prepared for the proposed San Luis Ranch project.

The development, between Madonna Road and Highway 101 on land long known as Dalidio Ranch, would add up to 500 homes, 200,000 square feet of commercial space, 150,000 square feet of office space and a 200-room hotel. Half of the land would remain open space and agricultural, according to the project’s draft specific plan.

Developer Gary Grossman, president of Coastal Community Builders, bought the $19.7 million property from Ernie Dalidio last year.

The Dalidio family acquired the bucolic ranch in the 1920s and grew vegetables and flowers. Today, residents and drivers on Highway 101 are treated to views of farmland, much of which is used to grow irrigated row crops: celery, broccoli, lettuce, Asian vegetables and peas. The site is also home to a small rookery of great blue herons and wintering monarch butterflies.

Grossman’s plan includes workforce housing, a “u-pick-it” farm and agriculture education center, and a pedestrian and bicycle-oriented community.

“This is the first crack on environmental issues to be studied in the EIR (environmental impact report),” said Richard Daulton, a principal at Rincon Consultants, which was selected to prepare the report. “An EIR does not approve or deny a project.”

Much of the site now produces irrigated row crops: celery, broccoli, lettuce, Asian vegetables and peas.

It will be some months before city leaders and local residents get to sink their teeth into it, however, as a draft environmental impact report likely won’t be released until next summer. The Planning Commission is expected to conceptually review the project in late winter or early spring 2016.

But Wednesday’s meeting gave the public and commissioners a chance to voice questions and concerns about the development. They brought up a range of potential issues: water, traffic, the removal of billboards and eucalyptus trees, flooding and the types of housing offered.

“I think that traffic is a big concern,” said Maysun Wells, whose Oceanaire Drive home abuts the proposed development. “My other issue is flooding. When you get a 50-year storm, where is that water going to go? And the eucalyptus trees are really pretty. It would be a bummer if those would be cut down.”

Several nonnative eucalyptus trees could be cut down or thinned to make room for development and a related widening of Madonna Road, according to an initial study of potential impacts.

“My concern is water,” San Luis Obispo resident Mila Vujovich-La Barre said. “Where is the water for this development?”

She also mentioned potential traffic impacts, especially to the Laguna Lake area, and asked whether the housing would be truly affordable.

The project’s projected water demand would be about 153 acre-feet a year (the entire city currently uses about 5,500 acre-feet a year). Although a 2012 report found the city has enough water to serve future projects, the initial study noted the ongoing severe drought and recommended re-examining the city’s available water supply.

Commissioner Hemalata Dandekar said she wants to see housing “that’s accessible to people working in this area.”

Grossman has proposed 350 units of single-family homes spread over 35.3 acres, with lot sizes ranging from 2,400 to 3,200 square feet. An additional 150 units of multifamily housing, such as townhomes, apartments or condos, would be built on 6.5 acres.

My concern is water. Where is the water for this development?

San Luis Obispo resident Mila Vujovich-La Barre

“The goal is to have a bunch of workforce housing close to the job center, so while we’ll be creating some trip impacts, we’ll also be offsetting that by taking some people off the road (from other areas of the county),” said Rachel Kovesdi, president of Kovesdi Consulting, who represented San Luis Ranch at the meeting. Grossman attended the meeting but didn’t speak.

Commissioner Ronald Malak wanted to know whether two billboards in the area could be removed as part of the project, and suggested the EIR pay particular attention to the use of solar energy.

San Luis Ranch is outside the city limits and would require annexation into San Luis Obispo before being developed.

Grossman’s other option would be to pursue development in the county under Measure J, a ballot initiative county voters approved in 2006. That measure allows for 530,000 square feet of commercial space, 198,000 square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel, 60 residential units and 13 acres of agricultural uses.

In a 2014 interview, Grossman said he wants to build more housing and less commercial development than Measure J envisioned.

He said, “I look at what was approved, and that is not what I want to drive by. I love going to Farmers Market every Thursday. I love the downtown. It is what keeps me living here.”

He also said he wants to build entry-level homes that people working in San Luis Obispo can afford.

“The income-to-housing ratio is so far off here,” he said.

Reach reporter Cynthia Lambert at 805-781-7929, or follow her on Twitter @ClambertSLO.

Project details

  • 500 homes
  • 350,000 square feet of commercial/office space
  • 200-room hotel
  • 3.4 acres of parks
  • Half of the 131 acres would remain as open space or for agricultural use

Get involved

Anyone interested in commenting on issues to be evaluated in the San Luis Ranch environmental impact report can do so through Nov. 17.

Comments can be mailed or sent to San Luis Obispo associate planner Rachel Cohen at rcohen@slocity.org; to contract planner John Rickenbach at JFRickenbach@aol.com; or by mail to 919 Palm St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401-3218.

Make the subject line “San Luis Ranch EIR.”