In a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors agreed to consider the highly controversial Dalidio Ranch Marketplace project.
Their vote sends the project, a 650,000-square-foot shopping center on the Dalidio Ranch along Highway 101 near Madonna Road, on a long path that will eventually lead to the county's planning department. Supervisors say that road could take several years of reviews and planning reports before the project returns to the board for a final vote.
The board's meeting room was filed with observers, 15 of who spoke during the public portion of the hearing. The majority of those who stood opposed the project.
So did supervisors Shirley Bianchi and Jim Patterson, who cast the dissenting votes. Some who spoke at the meeting cited concerns that the development would adversely affect downtown San Luis Obispo. Bianchi's concerns rested squarely with the county.
"We really need to have good financial information. We're going ahead without knowing how much it will cost," she said, the day after the vote.
The three other supervisors, Katcho Achadjian, Harry Ovitt, and Jerry Lenthall, didn't see it that way.
Achadjian was on the board several years ago when Dalidio first approached them about the development. At the time, the board worked with both Dalidio, whose land is part of the county, and San Luis Obispo to make the project something the city council could incorporate into the city limits.
But residents voted down that plan last April. On Tuesday, that long process was on Achadjian's mind as he voted.
"This was more of a courtesy vote on my part," he said. "We sent them to the city and it did not work. I felt like I owed it to them to say, let's open the door and see where it goes."
The Marketplace has been plagued by controversy over the many years that Ernie Dalidio has been trying to build the project on his family's farmland off Madonna Road.
Last year, as the city of San Luis Obispo considered whether to annex the land and allow him to build, conflicting studies surfaced as to how severely the Marketplace would impact the city's downtown businesses. One report claimed losses could reach $20 million a year.
Then there are the stores that would be a part of the project: Last year Macy's pulled out, citing increased building costs. Target, another store Dalidio still considers a key feature, has publicly stated that it hasn't committed to anything.
Then there's the matter of an overpass at Prado Road that will need to be built. And the matter of water issues, housing issues, and open-space policies.
Despite the fact that the city council approved the project, voters turned it down. And so it went back to the county.
But, Bianchi said, there are too many unresolved issues. For her, the biggest is how the county will pay for the services the development requires. She said the sales tax the Marketplace will generate wouldn't be that "big of a blip" in the county's budget.
"How much is it going to bring in [in sales taxes] to the county, and how much will it cost the county to pay for the infrastructure we'll have to put in? I don't think we can pay for an overpass in the city," she said.
Staff Writer Abraham Hyatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.