Doug Davidson, deputy director of the Community Development Department, laughed as he leaned back in the conference room on Palm Street.
“We’ve said in the past that we’re busy. But now, we are very busy,” Davidson said.
The City of San Luis Obispo has more than 65 projects currently under review or construction. Naturally, this building boom has raised some controversy. Some groups are concerned about the rate of expansion and the impact on the future of San Luis Obispo.
“We are at an all-time high for number of developments and there is a lot of complexity that goes into every single one,” Davidson said. “This is an unprecedented time in the city.”
The Community Development Department oversees the planning and review of all city projects, from private home additions to million-dollar developments. The department’s mission is to approve developments that meet the requirements and goals outlined in the General Plan, according to Community Development Director Michael Codron.
In sum, these goals are neighborhood preservation, economic development, and a shift to bicycle, pedestrian and bus transportation.
Proposed projects are subject to public input, and oftentimes concerned citizens or groups will file an appeal and present their arguments to the city council.
“A lot of neighborhood groups are overwhelmed by the number of developments,” Davidson said. “Not everyone is happy oftentimes. We have to find a middle ground.”
One concerned citizen is Allan Cooper, an emeritus professor of architecture at Cal Poly and secretary for Save Our Downtown SLO. The group is made of educated residents dedicated to the preservation of historic downtown San Luis Obispo.
“The city is very loose on their interpretation of the General Plan, and a lot of public input went into shaping that plan,” Cooper said. “We are trying to keep the city consistent.”
For Carol Geihs, who has lived in San Luis Obispo and the surrounding areas since 1967, the burst in development is an unwelcome change.
“There’s nothing here for us older folks anymore,” Geihs said. “I’m all for slow growth, but this is just fast, fast, fast.”
Here is a look into some of the prominent changes that will be implemented in the next few years.
The construction of Hotel Serra San Luis Obispo on Garden Street that caused detours and road closures is now close to completion.
The mixed-use project will be a 65-room luxury hotel featuring a rooftop pool and bar, with commercial space and a restaurant below. The project is set to be completed this summer.
Another development still under planning review is the Palm-Nipomo parking structure project. If the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is approved, the structure would provide 400 to 455 new parking spots downtown and a new home for San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre, formerly known as the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
California is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. According to the Legislative Analyst Office, the average price of a home in California is more than double the national average.
San Luis Obispo is no exception. According to the California Association of Realtors, the median home price in San Luis Obispo is $590 thousand — more than triple the national average.
Additionally, 44 percent of city employees commute to the city, according to the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments.
In light of these statistics, many developers have focused on residential complexes to meet the housing demands of San Luis Obispo.
The San Luis Ranch Project between Madonna Road and U.S. Highway 101 is set to boast 580 new residential units. Of these, 34 units would be affordable housing under the city’s affordable housing standards.
Monthly rent and house prices under these affordable housing standards are determined by the number of members in a household, their total income and the number of bedrooms in the housing unit. For example, a four-member household that makes 50 percent of the county’s median income would pay a maximum of $1,082 in rent for a 3-bedroom dwelling.
Another development in the Orcutt area, known as West Creek, has already broken ground on 172 residential units, 10 of which will meet affordable housing requirements.
Still under planning review, the Avila Ranch project located between the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport and South Higuera Street proposes more than 75 percent of houses to accommodate working and low-income families.
Combined with a few other housing plans, a total of 2,200 residential units will be added in San Luis Obispo in a span of just a few years. Upon completion, these projects would result in an 11 percent increase in total housing in the city, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.
However, the significant sprawl of these residential developments and the impact they will have on the quality of life for residents has raised some concern.
“Residents of [San Luis Obispo] suffer from any new development in terms of traffic congestion, water, etcetera,” Cooper said. “What happens is that some developers are socializing their costs and privatizing their profits.”
Cooper agreed the city needs more housing, but is in support of alternative solutions, such as increasing “granny flats” and requiring businesses to provide housing above commercial space.
Codron said the city is doing its job in approving developments that meet the needs of San Luis Obispo residents.
On the other hand, many locals are worried about their future quality of life in San Luis Obispo.
“They’re making a mess of things,” Geihs said.
The construction has taken its toll; the longtime resident recently sold her home due to the noise.
To learn more about what developments are happening in San Luis Obispo, visit the city’s interactive map.