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County rejects plan to subdivide SLO synagogue property

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A proposed subdivision of Congregation Beth David's property on Los Osos Valley Road was met with stiff opposition from county staff at a March 23 Planning Commission meeting.

"The property has no subdivision potential," County Planning Division Manager Airlin Singewald told commissioners. "Agreeing with the applicant's rationale on this project ... would set a dangerous precedent that could result in significant fragmentation of agricultural land throughout the county."

REJECTED SLO County rejected a proposed subdivision of a 92-acre property on Los Osos Valley Road that would allow for more housing development. - MAP COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • Map Courtesy Of SLO County
  • REJECTED SLO County rejected a proposed subdivision of a 92-acre property on Los Osos Valley Road that would allow for more housing development.

Property leasee John Rourke filed the application with the county to subdivide the congregation's 92 acres of ag-zoned land into eight separate parcels, to pave the way for the development of eight new homes, including one low-income unit, and a possible mixed-use project.

Rourke told commissioners that he holds a 50-year agricultural lease on the property that includes "an option to subdivide and purchase."

"That's how I'm involved," he said.

The subdivision would split the land into four 2.5-acre parcels, one 20-acre parcel with the synagogue, one 6-acre parcel for a low-income residence and a possible mixed-use development, and two larger parcels of 20 and 36 acres.

County staff opposed the application on the basis that it didn't conform with county land-use policies—arguing that splitting the property into eight pieces jeopardized its agricultural viability in an unprecedented fashion. SLO city—which owns an open space easement on the land—also submitted a letter in opposition.

"There's a large implication with this project," Singewald said.

While taking issue with the county's interpretation of the project, Rourke and his agent, Scott Stokes of Above Grade Engineering, said that they ultimately don't need the county's blessing.

Bolstered state housing laws—like the State Density Bonus law—now allow property owners to bypass local ordinances to build more housing, they said.

"Really what it gets down to is the density bonus," Stokes said to commissioners. "The state has gotten to a point where there's such a shortage of housing and there are so many homeless that [they've strengthened those laws]. One of the sections specifically says ... the law shall be interpreted liberally in favor of producing the maximum number of total housing units, which I think is contrary to what county counsel is saying."

During deliberations, planning commissioners expressed general confusion about the project and the applicants. Fifth District Commissioner Don Campbell asked Rourke why there wasn't a representative from Congregation Beth David at the meeting.

"Congregation Beth David owns this property," Campbell said. "I don't think we should be talking to somebody who has a lease on it. Is there a priest or a father or someone from that community here to talk about what's right or wrong?"

Rourke responded at the meeting that he had "signed something to act on [the Congregation's] behalf." Congregation Beth David leaders did not respond to a New Times request for comment before press time.

The Planning Commission eventually voted 3-0, with two members absent, to reject the application. Fourth District Commissioner Mariam Shah said she wasn't convinced by the applicants' arguments and offered an alternative idea.

"I would say start talking to the Board of Supervisors and maybe try it that way," Shah said. "I would think, for example, if you'd be willing to donate one of these parcels to People's Self-Help Housing and build a significant number of units, maybe this is something the county and the city would be more apt to consider."

Rourke said he planned to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors and wouldn't stop there if he didn't succeed.

"We're fully ready to take this to court," he said. Δ

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