Big Wave project gets its first public hearing

By on Tue, June 6, 2006

Darin Boville

Monday night, the Big Wave project, which links homes for developmentally disabled adults with commercial office space, took an important step in what looks like a long and difficult path.  The project aims to build on twenty acres of land next to the Half Moon Bay Airport, Pillar Point Marsh, and Pillar Ridge mobile home community [Google map].

Officially, this was a "Pre-application Workshop" that is required by ordinance for all "major developments" in San Mateo County. The intent of such workshops is to gather input from the public early on, before an application is actually submitted, to hear the public’s concerns, so that these concerns may be formally addressed later on during the project review by County staff. The County staff will publish a summary of the comments made at tonight’s meeting and will attempt to provide some sort of response to questions asked

It was billed by David Byers, land-use attorney for the Big Wave project, as the “first time in any sense this project has been unveiled to the community”.

Though this was the first such meeting dedicated to  showcasing Big Wave, the project has been presented before during public meetings of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and of the Half Moon Bay City Council, among others. Its proponents came out in force for the county’s hearings on its Local Coastal Program.

The Project

The proposed project would be located on two separate parcels located near the Pillar Ridge Manufactured Home Community, just north of Princeton, off Airport Road. The northern of the two parcels is zoned M-1 (Marine, Light Industrial) and M-1, AO  (Marine, Light Industrial in the Airport Overlay zone). The southern of the two parcels is zoned W (Waterfront Industrial).

Neither zoning designation provides for residential use. The project proposes to include 18 small single-story homes (1200 sq. ft., 2 bedroom, 2 bath) and 18 1-bedroom apartments. According to the applicant, the 18 small homes would be initially sold at cost to members of the developmentally-disabled community. From a planning perspective, the residential portion of the project constitutes a new housing subdivision.
The commercial portion of the project includes an office park consisting of four two-story office buildings, and associated parking lots, that were described by the applicant’s architect as having a "box-type, warehouse design."

The warehouse/office space would be sold as condos, where part of the ongoing condo association dues from the "for-profit" office park would help pay the operating expenses of the "non-profit" housing. The goal of the project is for the office park to provide space for businesses that would employ developmentally-disabled persons.

Finally, the project includes a self-storage facility along one side of the office park that would provide additional income.


Challenges to the project

The property appears to contain protected wetlands and sensitive habitat.  Some of these areas may have been degraded by recent agricultural and grading operations on the land.

Other issues that the project may need to address include Federal Aviation Administration setbacks in the airport zone, drainage impacts on the Pillar Ridge community, inconsistency of the residential use with the current zoning, and new housing in a tsunami zone.

The land is also in the middle of a boundary dispute between the Coastside County Water District and the Montara Water and Sanitary District.  MWSD says that the land is within its boundaries, but it has a moratorium on new water connections.  CCWD could provide it with water, but would need to establish jurisdiction.

These obstacles do nothing to deflate the motivation of developer Jeff Peck, one of the two owners of the property at the Big Wave site and its primary proponent. He purchased his tract in 1999 along with that of the Barber family which together make up the Big Wave land and has always had a vision of building upon it in such a way as to benefit the developmentally disabled. 

“This is the only piece of property zoned to get this done,” he said, dismissing suggestions that he move the project to a less controversial site. 

Jamie Barber, however, says that she purchased her property in tandem with Peck but never had any thoughts of developing homes for the handicapped on the land until Peck approached her with the idea some time later. Both admit that they didn’t consider any other sites for the project. 

Delays in building the condo units may jeopardize the business model upon which the project is based—commercial space subsidizing condos for the disabled—as costs escalate but Peck is undeterred. His own child among the potential residents of Big Wave he vows “I won’t give up until I’m dead.” 

He’ll need all of that determination and more judging by comments from audience members.

Community testimony

Former Half Moon Bay City Council member Mike Ferreira pointed out that past projects aimed at the Coastside have languished for twenty years “before they failed” and that two more projects—"both drier than this one”—were currently “on that same path.” He stressed the need to perform environmental studies early in the process in order to understand the nature of the land under consideration “rather than just assuming that all is well” and to contact the Coastal Commission earlier rather than later in order to discover “show-stoppers” and explore work-arounds.

Peck says that he has already commissioned an ecological study from a “private biologist” and that fears about environmental studies, often the bane of Coastside developers, don’t worry him.

Other speakers mentioned a variety of issues that suggested that the backers of Big Wave would benefit from a less insular approach.

One speaker noted that the metal roof of the large, warehouse-like buildings were contrary to local design codes while another speaker suggested that the plans may encroach on the El Grenada Sanitary District easement. A professional in the disability field wondered aloud at the lack of contact between the Big Wave developers and the regional community of experts on meeting the needs of the developmentally challenged. 

One resident, citing the restrictions placed upon coastal building in Marin County, raised the issue of natural disaster. Ironically for a project named “Big Wave” little thought seems to been given to the danger of tsunamis although this low-lying flat land near the ocean would be inundated if one ever struck the midcoast. 

Whatever the future holds for Big Wave it seems certain that residents of the Coastside, long politically polarized over the issue of development, will be discussing these issues and more in the years to come.

The upcoming formal steps to approval are: the developer formally submits the project to the county,  the county determines if the application is complete, the county starts the environmental review process probably including the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and formal presentation of proposal before the planning commission.  The project may need to be reviewed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and the California Coastal Commission.