For the second meeting in a row, the planning commission made a contentious split decision. The first was a meeting over personal cultivation of medical marijuana in December. This week, the commission was split over approving a large assisted living facility on S. River Road.

The applicants originally submitted a three-story, 80,000-square-foot project. They asked for a height variance because the proposed building was over 40 feet tall. They also asked for road setbacks to be reduced from 25 feet to about 10. At an October meeting to consider the project, the commission heard many complaints from nearby residents. The commission asked the developer to reduce the height and massing, consider traffic safety, and study the parking situation.

After re-drawing their plans and addressing most of the issues, the applicants came back to the commission this week. The new design reduced the height of the building to 2.5 floors and put it under 40 feet. That removed the need for a variance for height.

In addressing the road setback, the applicants pointed to two other previous projects for the same piece of land that permitted shallow setbacks. They also showed there is more than 10 feet of setback when including the landscaping and sidewalk that are in the city’s right of way.

Regarding traffic, the applicants offered to build a crosswalk with safety features that will slow the flow of traffic. Also, Serenade road will be red-stripped on both sides to create more room and visibility.

Regarding parking, the applicants submitted a study showing that 43 spaces will be sufficient for normal operations. The applicant’s engineer, Larry Werner, said he visited other assisted living facilities and saw lots of vacant spaces. The applicants also offered to use parking shuttles on busy days, such as Mothers Day.

At this week’s meeting, local residents and some of the commissioners, including Bob Rollins, voiced concern that the applicant, while reducing the height, did not reduce the overall size of the project. The applicants were still proposing the same number of rooms; and, by shrinking the height, the overall square footage actually increased a bit. Commissioner Doug Barth expressed concern that the project’s water runoff is being mitigated by using the landscaping in the city’s right of way, rather than on its own property. I agreed with him and I think the city should only offer its right of way in rare circumstances.

It is a large project for the size and shape of the lot, no question. Does the sheer size and density of the building, rule it out? I didn’t think so. Not if it meets city guidelines for buildings, as set out by the city council. In reviewing a project, I think the commission’s duty is to make sure it fits the standards as set out in the General Plan, ordinances, codes and policies.

The debate lasted a while and included two motions that failed on a 3-4 vote. The meeting went to 11:30 p.m.

In the end, I joined three other commissioners in voting to approve the project, with a reduction of 70-feet of the second floor on the south side of the building. I am hopeful the applicants move forward and break ground. The facility will mean millions of dollars of investment in our community, dozens of new jobs, and 100 new beds for our senior citizens in need of care.

Here is the story from Paso Robles Daily News:

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Planning commission approves large assisted living facility

The Paso Robles Planning Commission approved a revised proposal for a development plan and conditional use permit for The Oaks at Paso Robles Assisted Living Facility. The project site is located at the southeast corner of South River Road and Serenade Drive, across the street from Kennedy Club Fitness. It is a large three-story building that will accommodate about 100 senior citizens.

In response to feedback from an October meeting, where the commission directed the applicants to reduce the building height, provide better justification for a reduced street setback, and to review traffic safety, the applicants, BA Hoffman Holdings, LLC, changed the building’s design by dropping the first story partially underground, thereby lowering the building’s overall height by seven feet.

The commission approved a street setback exception of between 11 and 13 feet instead of the required 25-foot setback. The applicant argued that two other projects on the site had similar setbacks and were approved.

The applicant also conducted a traffic study, and agreed to install a cross walk across South River Road at Serenade Drive. Both sides of Serenade Drive will also be painted red near the project. The applicant commissioned a parking study, which found that the proposed 43 parking spaces would provide adequate parking for the project.

Nine residents spoke out during public comment saying the project was still too big. A couple also spoke in favor of the project.

After much deliberation and two failed motions, the commission approved the project on a 4-3 split vote, adding a requirement that the applicant further reduce the building’s size. The motion to approve was made by Chairman Vince Vanderlip. The yes votes came from commissioners Vanderlip, Scott Brennan, Thomas Burgett, and John Donaldson, and those who voted no were Bob Rollins, Darrel Cooper, and Doug Barth.

In the original design, the third story was a partial story, stopping 70-feet before the edge of the other two stories. The commission requested that the same design be used in this reduced plan, shrinking the overall size of the project.

To view the complete plans, click here.

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