Council looks at Beechwood impacts


PASO ROBLES — After 15 years of “on again off again” project consideration, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is set to go forward for the Beechwood property in eastern Paso Robles.

Perhaps determining the future of a baseball diamond-esque sliver of land — bounded by Beechwood Drive, Meadowland Road, Creston Road, and a utility company easement — the Beechwood Specific Plan EIR was given a green light at the May 15 Paso Robles City Council meeting.

Although applicants sought approval for a site plan with 915 dwelling units — mostly homes with some apartments — the Council opted to limit consideration to 911 under the terms of the City’s last General Plan Land Use Element Update which capped the number of new homes allocated to such development projects.

At the meeting city planner Susan DeCarli explained that there is a difference between allocated land use density and actual building permits, which are still available for private homeowners looking to build a second unit on properties spread throughout the city.

Bringing the count of units planned for the Beechwood project up from the original 674 slated in 2003 to 911 in this EIR exhausts the number set aside by the City for development.  At least, it “places them in reserve” for the moment. If the Council decided not to authorize going forward with the project after the EIR is completed then the units would again be available for other development proposals.

Paid for by the would-be developers, but using a consultant hired by the City, the EIR marks the first major investment toward development of the site; although public input has been gathered since April.

A public “scoping session” meeting took place April 11 and drew a crowd of 300, DeCarli said, adding that she’s received 150 comments and emails since. The May 5 City Council discussion also drew about 20 commenters, only two markedly in favor of the project.

The whole point of the EIR, she explained, is to include projected impacts on traffic, water and sewage infrastructure, air quality, water quality, school, “everything people have brought to us.”

Or in the language of the staff report outlining options for the City Council, “The EIR must provide feasible alternative projects that reduce these significant environmental for consideration. The Planning Commission and City Council will have the option to choose between the baseline project and the alternative projects when making a final decision on the project.”

In addition to the 911 units allowed for consideration, amenities proposed include bike and walking trails around the property and the variety of multi-use parks and open space typically found in modern subdivisions.

Dan Lloyd, representative for the developers, told the Council that the owners had already provided “a great deal of information” but that they are still waiting on the details of traffic studies and other answers for public concerns.

“What’s important to note,” he said, “is that the Beechwood proposal is essentially the same density as the projects around it.”

The few apartment buildings that would be closer living quarters than those enjoyed by neighbors were the result of City requirements for the project, he added.

In his opening comments he didn’t address the primary concern of residents coming to speak against the project on the grounds that there is not enough water for more nearby homes after only one year of increased rainfall. However, at the April 11 public event he told the television station KSBY that the City had already secured enough water to accommodate a growth cap of 44,000.

The draft EIR is expected to come back to the City for 45 days of public review sometime in August or September of this year.

In the meantime, the Beechwood plan is not the only major development proposal inching forward east of Paso Robles’ downtown. An intense five-day design study session known as a “Charentte” is planned for the Olsen-Chandler Ranch from May 30 to June 4.  The opening meeting will be at the Virginia Peterson Elementary School from 6 to 8 p.m. on May 30.

More than 670 homes are proposed for that site. The Charrette is pitched by City planning staff as a, “public input process where you are invited to work directly with your neighbors, local business owners, the land owner and a multidisciplinary planning, engineering and architectural consulting team to plan the future of the Olsen & Chandler Ranch properties.”

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