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Morro council bows to Cerrito property owner 

Despite an outcry from the community and a standing-room-only turnout at its last meeting of the year, the Morro Bay City Council shot down four separate appeals to a controversial development on a Native American ceremonial site.

On Dec. 13th, the City Council voted 4-1 to deny four appeals to prevent property owner Dan Reddell from building a large, two-story house on his 1.1-acre parcel on top of Cerrito Peak, popularly known as Eagle Rock. Councilman Noah Smukler dissented.

With the vote, the council upheld the city Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use and coastal development permit to construct a two-story, 3,256-square-foot home complete with an attached two-car, 920-square-foot garage, 745 square feet of decking, and a 711-square-foot secondary living unit.

The project would also require a 20-foot wide, roughly 400-foot long driveway up the hill on a public right-of-way, a concession many residents claimed amounted to giving public property away. City staffers contend that the driveway would remain public up to Reddell’s property and would improve public access to Jordan Terrace.

Concerns about development of the property covered topics ranging from drainage and erosion issues for neighbors, to adverse effects on monarch butterfly populations, to visual blight.

Fred Collins, spokesman for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, told New Times the peak has long been recognized as a spot of cultural significance because of artifacts found there and its history as a ceremonial location.

Reddell said he would allow Native American access to his property, if given 48 hours notice.

Residents also took issue with the amount of trees slated for removal. Of the approximately 300 trees on Cerrito Peak, 30 would come down. Under the city’s general tree removal policy, 60 trees would have to be replanted elsewhere.

City staffers deemed the project doesn’t require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) typically necessary under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because the commission found that the project doesn’t have impacts that couldn’t be mitigated.

“I think many in the audience think we can just order [an EIR], but it just doesn’t work that way,” Councilwoman Nancy Johnson said.

Of the 27 people who spoke in public comment, only six were in favor of the project—including Reddell’s builder, William Dolmovic.

“Those of you who think this will be a monolith, you have no clue,” Dolmovic said. “And I would not be surprised if more monarchs come because it will be more pleasant.”

Some people have alleged Reddell, a local real estate broker and brother of former mayor Dale Reddell, receives favorable treatment from pro-development city decision makers.

“This is another example of you listening to developers and not residents who have very real concerns,” said resident David Nelson.

“Some people see me and some of my colleagues as pro-development, but I don’t see this as a real town-changer,” Mayor William Yates said, adding that if the city wants the spot to remain open, they could entertain the idea of purchasing it. “I’m an open-space advocate.”

Reddell said he doesn’t understand why people are calling him a developer—he hasn’t “developed” a property since 1993, he said.

“I respect the Indians’ point of view,” Reddell told New Times. “I have a problem with the four appellants who live on the peak, their property backs up to my property, they use my backyard, and then they want to stop me from building my house. … They want to pay nothing and use my property.”

Reddell bought the property about 10 years ago and said he’s looking to build “as soon as possible.” However, he offered to sell the property for $1.2 million, and will give another 90 days to hear from interested parties.

After the audience had all but cleared out, Councilman George Leage asked to discuss options of purchasing the contested location—whether the purchase comes from the city or residents or both. The proposal is set to be discussed in a closed session hearing January 2012.

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