A housing proposal in San Luis Obispo that will bring hundreds of homes for seniors transitioning into an elderly care living environment — located across from the auto mall on Los Osos Valley Road — received a go-ahead from the SLO City Council on Tuesday.
The San Luis Obispo City Council voted 5-0 to approve major planning requirements of a project on a 109-acre site owned by John Madonna located next to Home Depot.
The council reviewed several key planning issues, including an environmental impact report examining issues of traffic and wildlife disturbance, among other areas, pending future annexation of the county site into the city’s boundaries.
According to a city staff report, the project proposes up to 404 units of independent and assisted senior housing in a life plan community, known as Villaggio; up to 174 multifamily residential units and up to 100,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, including potentially a 70,000-square-foot hotel. Approximately 60% of the site would be dedicated open space, and there would be a public park as well.
In clearing the specific plan of the project, which allows for annexation and development applications for land within the area, the council addressed some of the details related to the Villaggio portion of the project on Tuesday.
The city’s Architectural Review Commission (ARC) and Planning Commission still must review the application to complete the Villaggio portion before final approval, said Michael Codron, city community development director.
Villaggio’s planner Victor Montgomery expects to start construction in two years after final planning hurdles, he said.
The multifamily residential units, as well as the project’s potential commercial component — proposed by Madonna — would need to undergo re-subdivision and further City Council review before moving forward, Codron said.
Several advocates for new housing for seniors expressed a desire to live in a residence that would allow them to transition to assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing, as they age, which Villaggio would offer.
Opponents expressed concern about the city’s pace of growth.
“I really appreciate all of the input from the community,” City Council member Erica Stewart said. “There is some very solid support for Villaggio and the long-term continuum of care for this community. And there’s some very serious concern around the transportation (impacts).”
Stewart said the city will continue to monitor how best to manage traffic impacts.
She said she believes a turnover of housing in which seniors in the community move out of their local homes, and into Villaggio, will free up some workforce housing.
SLO PROJECT’S ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
Villaggio, which had previously considered building some of its homes above a 150-foot elevation line, revised its proposal to construct the same number of units below that dividing line on the hillside.
No building should take place above the 150-foot elevation in the Irish Hills area, the city’s land use element says.
Under the new proposal, construction of the park where a quarry currently is located near Home Depot, could exceed the elevation line, along with some multifamily housing, requiring a potential future exception — but project planners say that portion won’t generally be visible in public street areas.
Montgomery, a principal at RRM Design Group, said that the Villaggio building heights are planned for between one and four stories. The project was first proposed in the city in 2016.
The project would realign a creek on the site, as well as create a loss of wildlife corridors, according to a city staff report. The project is also located near potential fire hazard areas.
Montgomery cited multiple access points for emergency escape in the case of a fire and a 100-foot fuel reduction buffer zone designed to reduce the fire risk — in addition to a detailed fire staging and evacuation plan.
“The (environmental impact report) was big and expensive and took a long time, but it’s used the way it’s supposed to be used — to identify issues, to either mitigate issues or make a better project design,” Montgomery said.
The new development, in conjunction with the incoming Avila Ranch and San Luis Ranch properties, would add to traffic impacts, according to city transportation manager Luke Schwartz.
But the addition of the Highway 101 freeway interchange at Prado Road, which is anticipated to start construction in 2022 and to finish in 2026, would alleviate congestion, Schwartz said.
A stretch of Los Osos Valley Road will have new bike pathways, for example. And a bus stop will be added to Los Osos Valley Road and Auto Park Way.
A number of project measures were added to reduce the impact on the environment, according to project planners, who cited pedestrian and bikeway additions to area.
Electric shuttles, bike hubs, and electric chargers would help reduce vehicle traffic; senior living communities tend to have much less traffic than multi-family or commercial projects, according to project planners.
“I hear the folks around there who are concerned about traffic,” said City Councilmember Andy Pease. “… As this all kind of settles in, (the traffic network) will hum again. There will be frustration along the way.”
GROWTH VERSUS LIVING OPPORTUNITY FOR SENIORS
Former City Councilwoman Christine Mulholland wrote a critical letter of the project in advance of the meeting, saying “the council has been unwilling to deny any of the major growth and development that has come before you.”
Mulholland cited significant project impacts, including traffic along Los Osos Valley Road that she said already can get backed up at certain times of the day.
“None of this will help achieve your Climate Action Plan goals, nor your woefully inadequate provision of affordable housing,” Mulholland said.
But several prospective residents of the site welcomed the project’s possibilities.
“We live in Arroyo Grande and want to remain in the county as we age,” wrote Carolyn and Mona Harvey. “We have no children and want to ensure that we make ‘decisions’ about our golden years well in advance. Villaggio offers us that opportunity.”
Codron said the project (along with Avila Ranch and San Luis Ranch) is within the city’s growth planning, and SLO’s urban reserve line has remained unchanged since 1977.
The Froom Ranch plan is one of the three larger development projects envisioned in the city’s current long-term plans, along with Avila Ranch and San Luis Ranch, Codron said.
“Between 1990s and 2010, really the only big residential development to speak of were the Rancho Obispo and de Tolosa Ranch projects down the street on LOVR,” Codron said. “(This project is) planned, and we have the resources for it.”
City Manager Derek Johnson said there would be some staggering of the future construction of each of the projects, alleviating concern that they’d all go in at once.
City officials said the Froom Ranch project also proposes to “relocate, rehabilitate, and adaptively reuse four historic structures within the Froom Ranch Dairy Complex to the new public trailhead park, including the Main Residence, Creamery/House, Dairy (Round-Nose) Barn, and Granary.”
In addition, the council directed Madonna to incorporate the following conditions into the project:
▪ include at least one area for active recreation in the Madonna Froom Ranch portion of the project
▪ include an interconnected network of pedestrian paths in the Villaggio area that connect to the public sidewalks and Froom Ranch trail
▪ provide additional design guidance for multi-family housing above the 150-foot elevation line to be sensitive to historic resources in the area, with a farmhouse vernacular architectural style
▪ no portion of Villaggio would be located above the 150-foot elevation, and the entire upper terrace of the site would be zoned for open space conservation.
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