Laetitia ag cluster will have to scale back, county Planning Commission says

Tour of proposed cluster development The Reserve At Laetitia White/ Red posts mark the center point of a lot development envelope. This view looks west to Highway 101 and the ocean.
Tour of proposed cluster development The Reserve At Laetitia White/ Red posts mark the center point of a lot development envelope. This view looks west to Highway 101 and the ocean. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A proposed agricultural cluster housing development in rural Arroyo Grande must significantly scale back if it hopes to gain approval from the county.

Owners of The Reserve at Laetitia will have to present an amended proposal in January, after the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission tentatively said Oct. 29 that it would favor a housing development on the Laetitia Vineyard and Winery property if the size of the project were reduced to 83 homes from 101, and if the development used one less well than proposed.

The commission directed staff to return Jan. 14 with new conditions of approval for the project.

The original project called for a portion of the 1,910-acre property to be divided into 101 1-acre lots in what is called an agricultural cluster, which allows residential development on farmland as long as the homes are clustered together and have minimal impact on surrounding agricultural uses. One house already exists on the property.

About 1,787 acres of the property would be preserved in open-space agreements.

County planning staff recommended denying the project, saying it violates several planning standards, specifically residential density. Planners suggested fewer homes clustered closer together to reduce the project’s environmental impact. The plans have also drawn intense criticism from neighboring Nipomo residents who claim the development will endanger already-stressed water resources in the area.

The project has been in the works since 2004, and has undergone numerous redesigns following community and county input over the years.

This year, the project has gone to the Planning Commission twice for lengthy discussion, but both times it was continued. At the Oct. 29 meeting — the third time the project was included on the agenda — county staff and commissioners discussed the cluster for nearly five hours, focusing on water availability, residential density and emergency access.

Commissioners also debated whether denying the project would open the property up for more unregulated development in the future.

The Reserve at Laetitia has gone to the Planning Commission three times this year: first on Aug. 13, again Sept. 10 and most recently on Oct. 29. It will go before the commission for a fourth time on Jan. 14, 2016.

Representatives of Janneck Limited, which owns the winery, have previously said that if the project is not approved, it is likely that parcels of the Laetitia property could be sold off and developed, with less county input and without any preservation of open space — a worry for some of the commissioners.

“Always in the back of my mind is what is going to happen to this property if this project is not approved,” commissioner Jim Irving said at the meeting. “The whole point of the ag cluster ordinance is to preserve open space and to keep land in agricultural production, and I think that is what the applicant is proposing to do here. Minus the approval of the project, there’s no guarantee that the land will stay in open space or agricultural production. It could just be left to wither and die away.”

Irving stressed, however, that he felt the project needed to be smaller to reduce the visual impact from Highway 101, and he suggested removing the uppermost cluster of houses and a proposed well from the plans.

Ultimately, the commission agreed with Irving’s suggestion and directed staff to bring back conditions of approval on Jan. 14.

Any decision by the Planning Commission will likely be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie