As SLO County continues to reel from the revelations of mass deforestation by Justin Vineyards and Winery on property outside of Paso Robles, plans for expanding a business park within the city on property partially owned by Justin are moving forward with little opposition.
On July 12, the Paso Robles Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of rezoning 77.3 acres of undeveloped open space land west of Airport Boulevard, north of Wisteria Lane, and south of Dry Creek Road to "commercial and light industrial." On Aug. 2, the Paso Robles City Council will meet and decide whether to follow the commission's recommendation.
The applicant for the project is Tom Erskine of Ranch and Coast Properties. Erskine developed the Golden Hills Business Park on Wisteria Lane in the 1990s, which he wants to expand. Erskine is requesting to subdivide his undeveloped land to the northeast into 13 lots totaling 77.3 acres and one 134.7-acre parcel.
While Erskine owns a majority of the land in question, Roll Real Estate Development LLC, a subsidiary of The Wonderful Co. that runs the Justin brand, owns one 23-acre parcel. Justin also operates a nearby wine production facility on Wisteria Lane.
At the July 12 Planning Commission meeting, city officials cited a number of public benefits that could come from the project. The proposed development would involve constructing a road to connect Airport Boulevard with Wisteria Lane, which would provide another throughway to the center of town from the Paso Robles Airport. Erskine would also grant the city an easement on the north end of the property for a public walking trail, as well as build a water pipeline for recycled water generated by the city.
Once constructed, the business park would ideally bring head-of-household jobs to the city.
"There really aren't many 2- to 4-acre parcels to establish businesses out here," said Jamie Kirk, a land-use consultant for Erskine, at the meeting. "Hopefully this will provide economic benefit to the community."
Local residents who attended the meeting expressed concerns about Justin Vineyards' involvement in the expansion, the development's effect on wildlife in the area, and the larger issue of developing Paso Robles. Locals also criticized the tone of the meeting, stating they felt that the commission's approval of the project was a "foregone conclusion."
"What about the citizens? The citizens are tired of seeing all these hotels go up," said Carol DeHart of Vista Del Rey Vineyards. "I don't want to see more of the development continue that's been going on in this city."
Multiple residents spoke against approving a project that Justin is involved in.
"Anything Justin wants to do in this area we should be completely suspicious of," DeHart said. "They've done irreparable harm to this community."
Paso City Planner Susan DeCarli responded to those concerns following public comment.
"We're all well aware of the oak tree devastation. We all have concerns about that," DeCarli said. "The city, though, has a good reputation and follows through with managing our resources very responsibly, and we take it very seriously."