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Arroyo Grande OKs domestic well despite recommended denial

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An almost two-year battle between Arroyo Grande and future resident Michael Harris over drilling a domestic water well on his property came to an end after the City Council ignored staff's advice to deny it.

Since October 2022, city staff has recommended that the council deny Harris a well permit because it was both feasible and practical for Harris to connect to the city water system, with Reservoir No. 5 50 feet away from his 55-acre parcel, according to a staff report.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS Michael Harris has fought with the city of Arroyo Grande for almost two years for approval to drill a domestic well on his property.  - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL HARRIS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Michael Harris
  • ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS Michael Harris has fought with the city of Arroyo Grande for almost two years for approval to drill a domestic well on his property. 

During the May 28 City Council meeting, Harris said it wasn't feasible for him to connect to city water because his property is dense with California coast live oaks and sandstone rocks.

"One other thing I would like to point out, which I think everybody knows, is that all costs are applicant costs," he said. "The city doesn't pay for anything. I pay for a city connection to city water or a connection from my use of the water to the city."

Harris said digging a trench under this property to connect him to Reservoir No. 5 would cost him more than $300,000 and be a financial hardship, according to previous New Times reporting. Constructing the trench would also damage thousands of protected oak trees that stand on his property, he said.

"Much of it centers on the California coastal live oaks that are protected by the Arroyo Grande municipal code in the community tree program," he said during the meeting. "The report that I paid for from the arborist covers in detail the impacts to the trees, but that's not only impacts and their impacts to wildlife, but then of course erosion. ... I think the environmental impacts are significant."

Some Arroyo Grande neighbors, including Shannon Kessler, voiced support for Harris during the meeting. She said that the city's denial of a well permit is a serious concern and pointed out that the city has approved well permits in the past.

"I'm also a realtor, and I'm familiar with properties of this size—many do have single family residences, and they normally do have wells. I see this as a disturbing attack on Mr. Harris' property rights," Kessler said. "I'm also curious why the prior wells were approved, since from what I saw they were mostly [agricultural] wells, which are more intensive and have more of an effect on the water table than domestic wells."

The City Council decided unanimously to approve Harris' domestic well permit—with conditions that Harris will have to follow.

The project needs to occur in alignment with the application and plans on file in the Community Development Department office, which are for construction of one single family home and one dwelling unit. Harris must install a meter on the wellhead that monitors all water drawn from the well and report annual pumping amounts every year, and the permit expires on May 28, 2026.

Kessler said that the city's demand for Harris to have a water meter is concerning, as it could set a precedent for residents of the city.

"This could violate his private property rights and place an undue burden on him and on other residents," she said. Δ

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