NIPOMO, Calif. -- A recently-created petition in Nipomo is gathering signatures in opposition to the Dana Reserve project, a proposed large-scale development that includes a mix of housing and commercial uses.
"It's an outreach," said Alison Martinez, who is collecting signatures on the petition outside her home located near the project site. "It's people with voices and opinions. It's not a formal petition that's going to go for an election, or to get anything on the ballot, but I felt like Nipomo people need to be heard. I think it needs to be out there for public opinion, so hopefully the (San Luis Obispo County) Board of Supervisors or Planning Commission will hear us."
In a short period of time, the petition, which can be signed either online or at tables on Sandydale Drive or Glenhaven Place, has already gathered nearly 1,000 signatures.
"I've been very surprised by the outpouring of people and their comments on the petition," said Kelly Kephart, who set up the online petition on Change.org. "It's really great to see. People are consistently coming in and providing more comments, and more and more people are sharing the content, and bringing in more people to sign that are against the project."
The project site sits on a highly visible 288 acre piece of property adjacent to Highway 101 on the westside, just south Willow Road.
If built, it would be the biggest new development in the Nipomo area since The Woodlands (now known as Trilogy) was approved by county supervisors in 1998.
However, many Nipomo residents are hoping the project is never built, or at least modified from its current design.
"The density with 1,289 new homes, plus the 4,800 people that are going to be in Nipomo from the project are going to increase Nipomo by 26%," said Martinez. "That's a lot of people. Do we have the infrastructure? I don't think we currently do. Our roads are already impacted, both locally and the freeway. If you drive there at 5 o'clock in the evening, the freeway is very backed up."
Other major concerns with the project are environmental impacts to the currently undeveloped piece of property located between Willow Road to the north and Sandydale Drive to the south, and Highway 101 on east and Hetrick Avenue to the west.
The project calls for more than 3,000 oak trees to be removed, which concerns many people in the area.
"This is a really, really special site," said Kephart. It has many, many acres of oak woodland. It has sensitive habitats, such as Burton Mesa chaparral, that's declining throughout Nipomo, and is very rare. This project will take out rare plants, and so, we just don't want to see 97% of oak woodlands on this property removed. We don't want to see 96% of the Burton Mesa chaparral removed. That's not an ecologically or responsible thing to do, especially when all of these habitats are declining statewide and within the county."
Additional concerns range from water and sewage impacts to strains on law enforcement, fire, and schools, as well as the loss of the rural nature of Nipomo.
Developer Nick Tompkins has been working on the Dana Reserve project for years. He points out the development is a special project to him, especially due to his family ties to the location, and since he too lives in the area.
The project site is part of the original Rancho Nipomo property that was founded by Captain William Dana's, Nipomo's founder and area icon.
Dana is also Tompkin's great great grandfather, so this represents much more than simply a real estate deal.
"It's important to me that we do this right," said Tompkins. "We're never going to be able to come up with a project that meets everybody's needs. There is no perfect solution that everybody is happy with, but our job is to make this a project that meets the community's needs, meets the needs of the future generations and does it in a way that is careful on the impacts that it makes on our neighbors."
Tompkins said as a local himself, he understands the interests within the Nipomo community and he is keenly aware of his neighbor's concerns.
"Part of our job is to listen to those neighbors and try to see what is it that we can do to facilitate to project, but also mitigate their concerns, and talking to them and looking through it," said Tomkins. "Clearly, we have work to do on that, but we're also excited to tell the story about the project as it's designed, and the amenities that it brings, and possibly some of the misconceptions that we've repeatedly heard recently, and we need to do a better job of communicating to get that story out."
He also points out Dana Reserve will help reduce groundwater pumping by the Nipomo Community Services District, as well as potentially help improve traffic flow within Nipomo by creating improvements to North Frontage Road, Willow Road, and other surrounding roadways.
Tompkins also emphasizes hundreds of homes within the design are specifically targeted for a large portion of the population, many of whom are currently priced out of homeownership.
"We're trying to create a neighborhood by design that allows what effectively is the center of this project, to meet a missing middle workforce housing, not the high-end, not really the low-end, but really trying to find that place where young families or couples can actually afford to live on the Central Coast, have miles of hiking trails, nine or ten parks, and full community center," said Tomkins.
Other amenities to the project includes a fire station location, miles of hiking, bicycling, walking and equestrian trails, community and neighborhood parks, two transit stations, a Cuesta College satellite campus, plus high-speed fiber network.
A grocery store, several restaurants and other shops are also part of the current design plan.
People who have signed the petition acknowledge the need for additional housing, especially in the Nipomo area.
They're hoping Tompkins will hear their concerns and potentially alter some of his current plans.
"I think there's other options with this housing," said Kephart. "I agree, we definitely need housing in this community. That's very clear by the rental prices, people having trouble finding rentals. It's clear that's an issue. I just think that we need to do it in an environmentally responsible way, so we're not losing these natural resources that we really just can't get back."
To learn more about the Dana Reserve Specific Plan, click here.