by Rosemary Canfield

NIMBY. Not in my backyard. It's a term you hear a lot around San Luis Obispo County these days. Between dormitories and big box stores, it seems there is always a project creating discussion around town. Various neighborhoods and communities appear to be in a constant struggle with developers—often from out of town—who want to capitalize on the land and beauty of our area. We frequently see the headline, realize the project is miles away, and turn the page.

 What if the proposed development wasn't some remote possibility in someone else's neighborhood, but something that would impact residents and visitors to the entire Central Coast? What if said development opened a 'Pandora's Box' of projects that have been queued-up waiting for the lid to be lifted on a wave of construction, traffic, and use of limited resources.

 The Pandora's Box is about to be cracked with the potential of five mega-projects proposed in and around Avila Beach. These projects have the real potential of impacting our entire community, by limiting access to the beach, developing currently zoned open space, and overloading infrastructure that is already challenged by the growth we have seen in recent years. If you hike, mountain bike, surf, kayak, camp or just go to the beach in SLO County, these projects are in your backyard.

 Wild Cherry Canyon is a swath of land that would be the cornerstone in a preserve reaching from Morro Bay and Montana de Oro to Avila Beach. Part of the Irish Hills area, the Nature Conservancy and other organizations have been working to conserve this area since 2000. Kara Woodruff has been a leader in this effort and along with many local residents is not opposed to development in Avila completely, however, she is opposed to the type of rapid growth these projects entail. Woodruff says, "Avila Beach and its environs are at a crossroads. Unless the community stands up to protect the quality of life for residents and visitors, the development of Wild Cherry Canyon and other projects will forever and irrevocably alter the life and feel of this area. If you don't like this outcome, tell your supervisor and urge his/her support of a better way: conservation."

 There is a common element to each of the proposed developments going on in Avila and other beach communities along the Central Coast. Property owners have purchased land zoned as Agricultural or Designated Open Space. Since these lands are not to be developed for commercial use when sold, they are appraised and purchased for a much lower amount than if they were zoned otherwise. Property owners then begin to make development plans based on convincing the County Supervisors to re-zone the land to meet their needs and allow use of the land that was not originally intended.

In Wild Cherry Canyon, the 2,400 acre parcel is zoned Agricultural and with that designation supports the development of about 50 homes—the proposed project could increase this to 1,500. The Chevron Tank Farm property has industrial waste to clear before it could be used and such limited access that the proposed development would require parking along Avila Beach Drive. The Avila Beach Golf Course currently pushes the envelope of its zoning by holding major events without a special use permit through an agreement the owner made with the County Board of Supervisors long ago, wherein promoters donate a small percentage of sales to a non-profit. This has allowed many large-scale events that challenge the safety and infrastructure of Avila Beach and surrounding communities. What started out as an agreement to provide a venue for a local non-profit has been applied to many for-profit entities bringing tremendous traffic and crowds to Avila on the weekends throughout the year. During these events, traffic backs up on Avila Beach Drive to the 101, and concertgoers often leave a path of trash behind. Smaller scale projects on properties along Ontario Road and Shell Beach Road share this pattern of builders moving forward without proper re-zoning. The owner of an Ontario Road parcel has continued pre-development work while facing only small fees added on to this future project.

So why should residents who live in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, or Oceano, be concerned about these proposed developments in Avila? There are several outcomes of this pattern of developers asking for forgiveness rather than permission as they move forward with plans based on the hopes of re-zoning the land purchased as Agricultural or Open Space. If these developers are successful in their efforts to re-zone the land, other neighborhoods and open space throughout the county could experience the same rapid growth proposed in Avila.

The mega-development of these parcels also threatens the very qualities of life on the Central Coast that create its unique character. The Wild Cherry Canyon project as proposed would literally triple the population of Avila Beach and destroy the character   of the community while removing a critical piece of open space from public use and access. Developers have not proposed meaningful mitigation for the seemingly obvious issues of scarce water, emergency access and traffic safety confronting these projects.

I the Board of Supervisors authorizes re-zoning in these Avila projects, they set a precedent for this type of development to occur throughout the county. Residents who purchased homes backing up to open space or agricultural land throughout the county could find themselves facing developers in their own backyards.

The Central Coast is a unique gem in a state filled with urban sprawl and parking lots. Mindful development is crucial to retaining the character and nature   of this area and all residents are stakeholders in zoning changes proposed by outside and local developers. The continued development   of our coastal access areas will create a zone   of exclusivity and destroy the nature   of what it is to live on and explore the Central Coast. These proposed development could begin a wave of development without regard to the natural resources we so value here in our community.

ROSEMARY CANFIELD has lived o n t h e Central Coast for 22 years. An elementary school teacher by profession, she has taught at Bellevue Santa Fe Charter School and St. Patrick's Catholic School. Along with her husband, Craig, she has raised three children locally. When not writing, she can be found volunteering, running, swimming, and teaching yoga

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