Coastal Commission Expected to Deny Cayucos House Appeal

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

October 24, 2023

Photos shows the vacant lot on Gilbert Avenue looking down from Chaney Avenue, Cayucos that was the subject of an appeal to the Coastal Commission. Photo courtesy CCC

The California Coastal Commission was slated to hear an appeal of the County’s approval of a new single family home in a controversial, Cayucos neighborhood.

The Commission was slated to hold a “substantial issue” hearing last Friday, Oct. 13, at its monthly meetings in Imperial Beach, Calif., down in the San Diego area, on a project to build a house at 3579 Gilbert Ave., in South Cayucos.

The neighborhood is controversial because there are several “paper lots” in that area that neighbors have been fighting for many years to make sure they are not developed, fearing the steep slopes would slide if disturbed by development.

Slopes in the area are steep and similar lots further south have been deemed unbuildable and many have been reclaimed and retired by the County for non-payment of property taxes over the past two decades or more. 

But this Gilbert Avenue project isn’t in either of these two specific geologically challenging areas, and the Coastal Commission staff found no issues that the County’s permit process hadn’t adequately addressed, and thus recommended Commissioners essentially deny and kill the appeal.

The project is a 2-story, 1,970-square foot single-family residence that steps down from Gilbert Avenue on a steep but not too tall slope. It would have a 550 s.f. garage all built on a 3,775 s.f. vacant lot.

“The project,” reads the CCC staff report, “is located four blocks inland from Highway 1 at the very eastern edge of a predominantly built-out neighborhood comprised of single-family residences.”

The appeal, filed by several neighbors of the property, raised questions of consistency with the County’s Local Coastal Program (LCP) “relating to visual resources and community compatibility, geologic hazards, and biological resources,” the report said.

The report breaks down the appeal issue-by-issue.

“In terms of visual resources and community compatibility,” the report said, “the County-approved project is not readily visible from the shoreline or Highway 1, and it is located in a mostly built out residential neighborhood that won’t adversely impact any blue water ocean views, the visual quality of scenic rural landscapes, or run afoul of any LCP visual resource requirement.”

The report said the proposed house is modest in size, and “not out of scale with the surrounding residential neighborhood, including because it meets applicable numerical site design standards specified in the LCP for height, lot coverage, and minimum required setbacks.”

The Commission staff acknowledged that the slope has seen some erosion from “recent strong storms,” owing to it not being developed. The County demanded an analysis by a geologist. 

“The report found that the landslide potential at the site is low and shouldn’t be understood as anything particularly problematic,” the report said, “and with incorporation of recommended drainage and erosion control measures, any geologic issues will be adequately addressed and should actually help improve drainage and erosion at the site and the surrounding neighborhood.”

The official County geologist reviewed this report, according to the CCC report, which they concluded means the County and the applicant had done all that is required of them by the LCP.

The lot doesn’t have any wildlife value or natural habitat to protect either.

The project had two planning commission and a Supervisor hearing on its way to approval, which also leads the Commission staff to conclude that the procedures were all properly followed.

The appeal also contended that the state environmental laws were being broken or ignored, and there are low water pressure issues and in turn pressure to fire hydrants in the area.

The County has been working on those water issues, which fall in the jurisdiction of County Services Area-10, including new water storage tanks and expanded capacity of the tank farm on a hillside off Hacienda Drive.

Most recently the County awarded a contract to install a new water main from that tank farm down to the water line running down Ocean Boulevard that distributes drinking water from the CSA-10 water treatment plant located below the Cayucos-Morro Bay Cemetery next to Hwy 1. 

Water is piped up to the tank farm and gravity-fed down to the neighborhood.

That multi-million dollar project when completed, should greatly improve the water pressure to the homes and more specifically the fire hydrants in the South Cayucos area.

It should be noted that the vote on this item was scheduled for after EBN’s deadline, and while the staff recommended denial, if Commissioners decide there are substantial issues, they could vote to take the permitting over from the County and subject the project appeal to a full analysis and public hearing at a future Commission meeting. 

When that would be scheduled is unknown, but such appeals have taken as much as 2 years to complete with other projects.

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