Beginning in 2015, an LA-based investment group, in partnership with a prominent local landowner and local planning firm, began the process of seeking to develop a large residential project in the City of San Luis Obispo at the corner of Los Osos Valley Road and Calle Joaquin. The project, known as the Froom Ranch Specific Plan (FRSP), proposes to develop some 404 units of senior housing, including so-called “memory care”, plus a more standard development of 130 apartments and associated commercial development as a separate but related project on the 110 acre Froom Ranch property. CNPS-SLO has not opposed the FRSP per se, but we have strong reservations about the severe environmental impacts the project would impose on the community in general and the Irish Hills in particular.

An Environmental Impact Report on the project was undertaken beginning in mid-2017. That report was finally released in November 2019, and described many impacts from the project. It recommended numerous changes to the project to reduce or eliminate those impacts, and recommended many more “mitigations” to offset those that could not be eliminated. CNPS-SLO has followed this process closely, as we have long been advocates of the City’s environmental policies, and we have been quite vocal about them. Among the most important impacts we have objected to are:

  1. Allowing development above the 150 foot elevation along the base of the Irish Hills, including a sensitive and natural serpentine bunchgrass community;
  2. Placing an isolated part of the development in a site surrounded by sensitive woodland;
  3. Placing two Chorro Creek bog thistle populations at risk; 4. Rerouting Froom Creek around the project site;
  4. Exposing downstream areas to increased flood potential; 6. Potentially damaging the Calle Joaquin wetland and other sensitive wetland habitats;
  5. Eliminating part of an existing conservation easement to accommodate the development.

With release of the EIR, the project sponsors themselves saw the severity of one of the most significant impacts and publicly announced that they would drop most of the project above the 150 foot elevation in order to avoid those impacts. They also approached CNPS-SLO to discuss other issues of the project in an attempt to blunt our opposition to other aspects of the project or to modify them if possible. That is where we are today. We are calling for changes to those parts of the project which compromise the integrity of Irish Hills Natural Reserve, or which degrade the environment of Froom Creek or the Calle Joaquin wetland.

Specifically we seek the following changes:

  1. Preservation of all lands above 150 foot elevation; dedication to the City of SLO, with conservation easement held by the Land Conservancy;
  2. Preservation of the wooded “cove” area, and its inclusion in the dedication described above;
  3. Establishment of a park at the former quarry area, with trailhead, historic buildings, and enhancement project on Froom Creek’s north bank and adjacent flood plain (see #7 below); (Note: All of the above items are recommended in the Froom Ranch EIR)
  4. Presentation of 1, 2, and 3 above, together with adjusted agricultural conservation easement, as a package to justify said adjustment of conservation easement;
  5. Reasonable proof that rerouting of Froom Creek will: result in establishment of healthy native riparian gallery forest plantings, include use of appropriate native upland species on any elevated surfaces, result in restoration of ecological functions lost due to destruction of existing detention basins in proposed new basin;
  6. Reasonable proof that rerouting of Froom Creek will not: interrupt groundwater flow, exacerbate flooding or drying of Calle Joaquin wetland, or damage the wetland;
  7. Mitigation for losses of native bunch grass habitat to include enhancement on the flood plain of Froom Creek at the mouth of Froom Creek Canyon where an excellent opportunity exists in an area now dominated by the non-native fountain grass (Pennisetum);
  8. Mutual agreement on boundaries of the development and the nature of the required buffer areas between the new development and lands that will remain in open space uses.

CNPS-SLO will continue to press for these changes right through the approval process, which is expected to take at least a year. As nearly all the listed plants (listed here on p.6) lie above the 150 ft. contour, this is most important issue facing CNPS.

Neil Havlik: CNPS _SLO Conservation Committee

Froom Ranch image

Wetlands and sensitive habitat area, southern end. Photo D. Chipping

This URL will give you access to the project description and EIR: https://www.slocity.org/government/department-directory/community-development/planning-zoning/specific-area-plans/froom-ranch

Listed Plants Observed on Froom Ranch above the 150 ft. elevation (from EIR)
Perideridia pringlei (adobe yampah); Chorizanthe ssp. breweri (Brewer’s spineflower); Dudleya blochmaniae (Blochman’s dudleya); Calystegia subacaulis ssp. episcopalis (Cambria morning glory); Senecio aphanactis (Chaparral (rayless) ragwort); Cirsium fontinale var. obispoense (Chorro Creek bog thistle); Calochortus clavatus ssp. clavatus (Club hair mariposa lily); Centromadia parryi ssp. congdonii (Congdon’s tarplant); Delphinium parryi ssp. eastwoodiae (Eastwood’s larkspur); Layia jonesii (Jones’ layia ); Streptanthus albidus ssp. peramoenus (Most Beautiful Jewel-flower); Chorizanthe palmeri (Palmer’s spineflower); Calochortus obispoensis (San Luis mariposa lily); Castilleja densiflora ssp. obispoensis (San Luis Obispo owl’sclover)