Plans for Atascadero’s 3,500-acre Eagle Ranch area could help the city soar to new heights.
On May 27, the Atascadero City Council granted authorization to process the project application for a conceptual Eagle Ranch specific plan, the first step in a master plan that could create a major residential, commercial and tourism center in the low-profile town in north San Luis Obispo County.
“The city anticipates the Eagle Ranch project to definitely be something to put Atascadero on the map,” said Steve McHarris, Atascadero’s deputy community development director.
According to a city report, plans for Eagle Ranch could include reconfiguration of the 452 residential lots and roadway network originally established for the site, a variety of housing types, commercial uses, parks, trails, open space, resort facilities and an equestrian center. Eagle Ranch rests south of Atascadero and west of Highway 101.
Greg Smith, who owns the land with his family, said the specific details of the plan have not been developed. However, he said the family does not plan to increase the housing lots currently designated for the property but hopes to reconfigure the layout of the lots so that they are clustered together.
“We hope it will be a significant benefit to the area, both in housing and amenities,” Smith said. “We’d like it to be a premier environmental, [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] LEED-based sensitive community that maintains the look and feel of the operating ranch that it has been for many years.”
In 2002, Atascadero’s general plan slated the roughly 3,450-acre property known as Eagle Ranch for a configuration of housing lots, roadways, resort facilities, public open space and recreation areas. Six years later, the owners have submitted a plan reflecting a desire to develop those features.
Smith said the land has been locked into California’s Williamson Act, in which land owners voluntarily restrict their land to agricultural and open-space uses. In exchange, property taxes are assessed consistent with their actual uses as opposed to their potential value. Now that the contract is ending, Smith said, Eagle Ranch will be eligible for development Jan. 1.
The Smith family is exploring the idea of donating another 3,000 acres of the Eagle Ranch property to the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County.
“The city is anticipating a fiscally positive project, meaning revenue generating uses,” McHarris said, adding that such revenue could come from lodging, sales tax, events at the equestrian center, tourism and commercial uses such as restaurants, spa facilities and retail sales.
McHarris said the Eagle Ranch project would likely complement, rather than compete, with neighboring Paso Robles’ efforts to draw more tourists to its growing wine region.
Although in 2003, Atascadero approved the inclusion of Eagle Ranch within its sphere of influence, the site must still be annexed into the city. The next step in that process requires a specific plan, or pre-zoning, to be approved by the city and then presented to the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, McHarris said.
As the specific plan goes through the approval process with the city, McHarris said the developers will specify how the project would be phased. Smith said the family will see the ranch through the planning process but has not yet decided if the family will maintain ownership of the developed project.
According to city policies, a joint study session will likely be held to identify project alternatives and priorities. Thus far, one neighborhood meeting has been held offering the background and history of Eagle Ranch. During the summer, McHarris said he anticipates additional community meetings to gather input from the project applicant and public about the project’s design.
Among residents that neighbor the project area, McHarris said he expects concern regarding traffic, points of access and views.
“Overall, the community, including the business community, would be interested in tourism and uses that attract people … to Atascadero,” McHarris said. “And what I’ve heard to date has focused on a hotel and equestrian center.”
San Luis Obispo-based RRM Design Group, Victor Montgomery Professionals are listed as the project applicants.