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The SLO City Council is hung up on a decision to override the Airport Land Use Commission on future planning 

A looming conflict between the San Luis Obispo City Council and the SLO County Regional Airport Land Use Commission touched ground in City Hall Oct. 21, prompting much discussion, but no resolution yet.

The two bodies are engaged in a disagreement over the future shape of housing in the area around the airport, which has been a particular focus as the city wraps up updates to its general plan.

The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), a vital part of the city’s General Plan, functions as a blueprint for growth up to 2035 and effectively shapes the future of the city, said SLO City Deputy Director of Community Development Kim Murray.

The Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC), an independent oversight body, found that the LUCE was inconsistent with the county’s regional Airport Land Use Plan, concluding that the planned development near the airport would be subject to significant noise and safety issues. The city and the ALUC failed to work out their differences, prompting the city to consider the option to override ALUC’s position.

“In terms of the usurpation of the ALUC power and authority, obviously that is not the city’s intent of the overrule,” Murray told the council. “The airport master plan is a fairly aggressive and optimistic assessment of what future airport growth and activities may look like, so they felt it was appropriate to reassess.”

Whether the city will move forward with the proposed LUCE is an important question because 95 percent of the additional proposed housing falls within the area covered by the Airport Land Use Plan. Much of that potential development has been identified as especially crucial in providing workforce housing, said Community Development Director Derek Johnson.

“The proposed plan would have had a pretty significant impact in correcting job-housing imbalance in the community,” Johnson told New Times.

Most of those who spoke during public comment favored the override—with a large showing of community members and businessmen who were either involved in the LUCE’s community process or in business ventures in the area. Business owners spoke of employees who wanted to live in the city, but who couldn’t find available or affordable housing.

“Many of our employees live in the city; many more want to live in the city,” said Rick Stollmeyer, co-founder and chief executive officer of the local software startup MindBody Inc.

While much of the discussion hovered over the city’s ever-present challenge of balancing job locations and nearby housing—especially affordable housing—the council diverged on how exactly affordable housing should be viewed in the scheme of the LUCE and the airport area. Councilmembers Dan Carpenter and Kathy Smith took issue with the notion that more housing in the area was the one-size-fits-all answer. Smith expressed a wariness toward what new developments would deliver, and that “the promise of new affordable housing is not guaranteed,” adding that she felt most of the speakers had a vested interest.

Mayor Jan Marx and Councilmembers Carlyn Christianson and John Ashbaugh all favored the override, underscoring the need for the city to move forward with a plan that’s taken years and a heap of community and staff involvement to draft.

“I view this as a distraction, as a broken wheel,” Ashbaugh said. “We’ve got to pump that tire up and move on.”

After discussions concluded, Carpenter said he was still on the fence; the three members who support the issue were thus reluctant to vote, as the override requires four out of five votes to pass.

After a bit of a parliamentary procedural dance, the council was left hanging, choosing to delay a decision—and thus the approval of the LUCE—to an undetermined date in the future. That left many of the issue’s supporters a bit perturbed.

“I’m just in profound shock over here, and I suppose I should have been prepared for this kind of an unpleasant surprise,” Ashbaugh said, referring to the outpouring of support received for the plan. “I see a lot of disappointed faces from people out there that are similarly in shock.”

Carpenter, however, insisted that he has heard a different tune from some who live near the airport.

“You insult me when you say we have not listened to the community,” he said. “You don’t know how much time I have spent in the last couple of months listening to people.”

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

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