SLO Palomar housing proposal to be studied for neighborhood impacts

A panoramic view of the property at 71 Palomar Ave. in San Luis Obispo, the site of a proposed controversial development project.
A panoramic view of the property at 71 Palomar Ave. in San Luis Obispo, the site of a proposed controversial development project. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A controversial housing proposal at 71 Palomar Ave. in San Luis Obispo will undergo additional review to assess its impacts on water supply, skyline views, plant life and other resources before the city makes any decisions on whether the plan can move forward.

On Monday, more than 30 people spoke at a four-hour Architectural Review Commission meeting on the proposal to build 33 apartment units and a parking structure on 1.3 acres. The site is now home to the 1891 Sandford House, which would be converted into a leasing office with amenities for residents.

Most speakers opposed the plan, saying the project would be too dense for the neighborhood and would increase traffic and noise near single-family homes.

About 150 tenants could live on the site if the housing is built as proposed. Some residents say they fear students would move in, disrupting the neighborhood and forcing families to move.

The property is located near the Valencia student apartments, which house Cal Poly and Cuesta students as well as single-family homes.

“Most of us have enjoyed peace and safety,” area resident Caroline Smith said. “But with 150 students living by our single family homes, the types of noise disturbances could be students playing beer pong, shouting obscenities at each other after 2 a.m. and car alarms and locks going off at all hours. Many of us will move. You’re destroying the quality of life for those folks.”

But those in favor argued that the development is badly needed in a tight rental market that’s forcing many young professionals into shared housing to make ends meet and families to live outside the city and commute to work.

“More housing is needed, period,” said Taylor Simpson, who identified himself as a young professional who lives in San Luis Obispo. “One of the biggest challenges here is finding an adequate place to live. I don’t want to live in a place that’s run-down. It’s time the city really takes a stance and supports the young professional community.”

More housing is needed period. One of the biggest challenges here if finding an adequate place to live.

Taylor Simpson, San Luis Obispo young professional

The commission decided not to make any recommendation until an environmental study could be done by a consultant to assess impacts to biological resources and the historical context of the Sandford House.

“We want to be able to review all of the information before making a decision,” said Greg Wynn, the ARC’s chairman. “The process now is that the proposal will go back to the Cultural Heritage Committee for review, then the Tree Committee and then the Architectural Review Commission again, likely in October.”

Under the plan, the Sandford House would be moved 33 feet to the east and 16 feet south of its current location.

Many of us will move. You’re destroying the quality of life for those folks.

Caroline Smith, area resident

Some speakers argued that moving the historical home would destroy its integrity. In a previous interview, developer Loren Riehl of El Segundo told The Tribune the foundation is deteriorating and the home has to be moved off its footing anyway to preserve it.

At a Cultural Heritage Committee meeting in June, CHC members were unclear whether the Sandford House was built in an Italian Renaissance or Colonial Revival style based on the information presented to them.

The proposal also could include chopping down 49 trees and planting 38 new ones. The city’s arborist hasn’t completed a report that will determine whether removing the trees is appropriate.

“The style can affect the aspects of the landscaping,” said Patricia Andreen, an ARC commissioner. “It’s too soon to evaluate the massing of the buildings if we don’t know if trees will be moved or not.”