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Santa Margarita Ranch exposes Planning Commission rift 

The developers of Santa Margarita Ranch are in hurry-up mode. They want the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission to make a decision on their plans, even if it means denying the project. At least one commissioner thinks his colleagues are purposefully stalling.

Planning commissioners have been dissecting the proposed 6,195-acre agricultural cluster development for about two months, talking in excruciating detail about its environmental impacts and how to mitigate them. But on Aug. 28, Santa Margarita representative Doug Filipponi asked the commission to stop the discussions and either approve or deny the project.

A project denial would allow Santa Margarita Ranch to appeal to the Board of Supervisors before the board composition shifts in January. The new board is widely expected to be more skeptical of new development than the current board.

“The reality is whatever we do here is going to get appealed to the Board of Supervisors,” Commissioner Sarah Christie said

Christie and Commissioner Penny Rappa were the largest proponents of pursuing one of the proposed project alternatives: No. 13, which clusters the residential lots near the town of Santa Margarita and places about 2,500 acres in agricultural conservation.

But Filipponi said flatly that Santa Margarita should either go through as proposed by staff or not at all.

“We think it’s the best project, it’s environmentally superior to [alternative] 13,” he said flatly. “If we don’t have support for that then I guess the only thing you can do is deny that.”

The commission decided not to deny the project and instead voted 4-1 to continue the hearing to Sept. 25. Commissioner Bob Roos, the only “no” vote, believed his fellow commissioners were simply putting the project on hold until the Board of Supervisors changes.

“I know exactly what’s going on here,” he said. “What exactly is going on here is a ploy to make this project finish the Planning Commission [hearings] with the new planning commissioners. I recognize that the tide is going to turn in January, so I know perfectly well what’s going on here. This is merely a smokescreen.”

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