In the latest face-off between San Luis Obispo city officials and local residents, the SLO City Council rejected the appeal of a proposed four-story, mixed-use project on Jan. 15.
The unanimous vote paves the way for a 43-foot-tall development geared toward college students at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Chorro Street, with retail on the ground floor and 78 apartments (including 12 affordable studios) on the upper floors.
- Rendering Courtesy Of The City Of SLO
- MOVING FORWARD On Jan. 15, the SLO City Council denied an appeal of a proposed four-story, mixed-use development on Foothill Boulevard with 78 housing units.
James Lopes and Odile Ayral of the Foothill Blvd. Civic Defense filed the appeal challenging the Planning Commission's July approval of the project, citing traffic and parking impacts, the blocking of the Bishop Peak viewshed, and a lack of environmental review.
Also central to the debate was the developer's request for more lot coverage (90 percent) and height than the local zoning code allows. Residents in opposition asked the City Council to push back on the waivers, while city leaders argued that California housing laws created those incentives for the developer, and that they tie the city's hands legally.
"Whether we love this project or don't like it is unfortunately neither here nor there in terms of the very real housing laws that the state has now," Mayor Heidi Harmon said.
But many locals complained about the size and aesthetic of the project, and feared its impact on traffic safety in a busy Foothill expressway.
"This is already one of the most dangerous, impacted intersections in the city," said resident Mila Vujovich-La Barre. "I'm concerned about this gargantuan development and the impact of safety on the residents."
The project at 790 Foothill is planned on an amalgam of properties, including the current site of BlackHorse Espresso and Bakery. Speaking at the meeting, BlackHorse owner Tom Brown said his lease at the coffee shop runs through 2024—and he has no plans to close up shop. Brown told New Times that the project developer, Loren Riehl, has offered to buy out his lease, but the two have yet to come to an agreement.
"I have every intention at this point of staying right there and operating a business," Brown said. "I think we all agree in SLO there's a need for affordable housing. But I don't think that means we approve marginal projects in order to provide that."
Riehl is also behind new apartments across the street, at 22 Chorro—another controversial project approved in 2016. The developer pledged to commit $150,000 toward making infrastructure improvements beyond the scope of the project. That commitment, though, is contingent on locals not filing a court challenge to the project, which happened in the case of another one of his projects on Palomar Avenue.
"I'm trying to do better in this part of town. I'm trying to do something above and beyond," Riehl said. "I'd much rather spend money improving the city than fighting a frivolous lawsuit."
Prior to the City Council's vote, Councilmembers Carlyn Christianson and Aaron Gomez called on residents to support new housing for all community members—including college students.
"It's irrelevant [who lives there]," Christianson said. "I don't want to hear it. I'm tired of hearing that. I don't like it. ... I do believe our City Council has an obligation to get some housing built. This is the perfect place for it." Δ