A flimsy appeal shouldn’t halt Harbor Terrace plans

Part of Harbor Terrace near Port San Luis.
Part of Harbor Terrace near Port San Luis. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In an area where beachfront rooms can easily go for $300 a night, the Port San Luis Harbor District is proposing something remarkable: ocean-view accommodations for as little as $35 to $40.

We aren’t talking swanky towels in the bathrooms and chocolates on the pillows. These are RV spaces, tent campsites and cabins, and we believe many budget-minded vacationers will be just fine with that. Some local residents, though, are worried that Avila Beach is being threatened by overdevelopment, and the Harbor District’s project, called Harbor Terrace, has come under eleventh-hour scrutiny as a result.

Michael Kidd, an Avila Beach hotelier, has appealed the county Planning Commission’s unanimous approval of the project; that appeal will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Kidd objects to allowing development in the midst of a severe drought. He also believes traffic has been inadequately studied and he maintains the long-range plan for the area is out-of-date.

On top of that, there’s a larger concern on the part of other Avila residents about the overall magnitude of the development proposed for the community. Other projects, including a new resort on the Avila Point property owned by Chevron and a 1,500-home subdivision proposed for Wild Cherry Canyon, are in the early planning stages. Citizens question whether the community — which is served by a two-lane road where there’s already bumper-to-bumper traffic on busy weekends — can handle all that growth.

We share that worry. However, we believe it’s wrong to lump Harbor Terrace with other projects.

This is not a big residential development or a destination resort that will draw hundreds, even thousands, of new residents and visitors to the area.

Harbor Terrace will likely accommodate many visitors who have already been coming to Avila, and will continue to visit whether or not the project is built.

In fact, the project will replace some existing facilities — 30 RV sites already on the Terrace Harbor site, and another 25 along Avila Beach Drive.

Those 25 sites on Avila Beach Drive are a problem. Pedestrians and cyclists have to maneuver around the big RVs, which can mean veering into the street.

In 2007, the California Coastal Commission ordered the Harbor District to get rid of the RV spaces within five years, but the commission extended that since it knew the district was making progress on the Harbor Terrace project.

That progress should be allowed to continue.

Kidd’s arguments against the project are flimsy at best and overlook the many positive aspects of the development.

For example, take the issue of water use: Port San Luis is entitled to 100 acre-feet of water from the Lopez Water Project. It uses only 35 acrefeet; it’s anticipated that Harbor Terrace will use another 32 acre-feet, for a total of 67 acre-feet.

Even if the capacity of Lopez Reservoir drops to just 2 percent (it’s now at 35 percent) requiring a steep reduction of allotments, the district will still be entitled to 65 acrefeet of water.

And if Lopez were to dry up completely, Harbor Terrace could be temporarily shut down. The same can’t be said for permanent residences.

As for traffic, we agree that traffic and parking can be a headache in Avila, as they are at many beach communities. But it’s disingenuous to attempt to keep out low-cost camping while continuing to promote tourism through advertising and special events. Far from being a trafficgenerating nuisance, we believe the project will be a major asset: It will provide a source of revenue that will ensure the Harbor District’s financial stability; it will get RV parking off Avila Beach Drive; and it will improve beach access — a goal of California’s coastal planning — by providing a range of accommodations for visitors who might otherwise find a seaside vacation out of financial reach.

The Tribune strongly urges the Board of Supervisors to deny the appeal and allow Harbor Terrace to proceed.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune