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Paso Robles grants oak tree removal permits for the Discovery Gardens project 

An elaborately designed outdoor-garden-themed park planned for a plot of land in east Paso Robles has inched forward with one more crucial permit approval from the city. But before any construction begins on the park, dubbed Discovery Gardens, several clusters of oak trees must be removed.

While the idea that the installation of a garden-themed facility requires the removal of some native plant life may seem counterintuitive, city staff and project applicants both say the cutting will lead to improved overall health for the remaining oak trees on the property. The City Council gave the go-ahead at its Dec. 16 meeting for the removal of 70 oak trees, all of which were rated in the lower portion of a 0 to 10 scale that assesses health. In turn, existing oak trees will be pruned and treated as necessary.

Project consultant Christy Gabler of North Coast Engineering said that removing the not-so-healthy oaks and maintaining the remaining trees would be a beneficial alteration to the area.

“We hope to enhance the beauty of the site and bring our guests closer to [oak trees] so they can also appreciate our oak woodland,” Gabler said.

Discovery Gardens is the first of two phases of the larger Entrada de Paso Robles project—which is Spanish for “Entrance (or Gateway) to the Pass of the Oaks.” That project’s total build out is planned to include a 200-room hotel resort surrounded by several casitas, a conference center and hotel, a golf academy, a wine center, 18 acres of vineyards, and outdoor education and exhibition areas.

The 386-acre property was originally slated for a project called Black Ranch Resort, which was approved in 2004 and included plans for a 27-hole golf course and a hotel resort. The property has since been bought by Ken Hunter—owner of the Hunter Ranch Golf Course—who scrapped the golf course plans and birthed the Discovery Gardens concept. The project sits along Highway 46 East, between Hunter Ranch Golf Course to its south and the Paso Robles Municipal Airport to its north.

The city’s planning commission approved the project master plan in May, but the council oversees oak tree removal permits. An estimated 175-oak-tree maximum would need to be removed for the project, all of which would be mitigated. The first phase will require the removal of 70 trees. The property is estimated to be home to between 1,500 and 2,000 oaks.

The request for an oak tree removal permit was well received by the council, and drew no objection—not even a comment—from the public.

Councilmember Fred Strong recounted his experience owning property near the then-planned Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and dealing with that development situation, comparing it to Entrada de Paso Robles’ concept plan.

“This, when you see the whole plan, is I think equally or even more exciting than what was done in Orlando back in the ’60s and ’70s,” Strong said.

He said he was glad to see the city embrace a form of native oak management “so we don’t become like Los Osos, the valley of the bears with no bears, but rather pass of the oaks, with many, many healthy oaks.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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