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Proposed Laetitia housing development will soon go before SLO County Planning

Karen Garcia, KCBX Newsroom

Laetitia Vineyards has been working on a project to build small groups of houses on property it owns between Arroyo Grande and Nipomo, while maintaining much of the grape vines that are currently there. The industry refers to this type of development as an ag cluster.

We were given a tour of the area surrounding the vineyards by neighbor Tim Toomey, who lives just a few minutes away from the entrance of the proposed housing project.

"My family has been in this area for five generations, this land here was part of the original rancho Nipomo," he said.  

Toomey says the agriculture clusters aren't a bad idea for this development, but there is concern about the water that will be used for the homes.

"I'm not against ag clusters per say, we have some good ones in south county and tally and Varian Ranch," he said, "But they have plentiful water, here we do not and it's absolutely foolish to take more water out of the ground when we're already suffering the consequences of not enough water."

Victor Montgomery is Laetitia's manager for this project. He says, in an effort to conserve water, lawn space will be limited for each home.

"They're just water sponges, so we said okay we're going to tighten down the screws on lawns, three-hundred square feet, that's it, it's about the size of this room," Montgomery said. 

In 2009-2010, the land for the project underwent a two year test to insure whether the wells would provide enough water for the homes, as well as the existing agriculture.

"Our hydro-geologist, the county's hydro-geologist spent about two years, tested. Drilling wells, bringing them online and tested them and looking at all the existing ag wells we well," he said. 

Both consultants wrote a report that was looked over by a third party hydro-geologist that the county hired. 

Brian Pedrotti a member of the San Luis Obispo County Department of Planning and Building oversees the Laetitia housing development plan. He said the third party consultant found that there would be enough water for the development under a certain condition. 

"The consultant concluded that the testing showed there was sufficient water to serve the development and the agricultural portion as long as water conservation measures were incorporated into the project," Predotti said.  This includes two meters in every household to monitor water usage inside and outside the home.

"The tests are accurate and the results are accurate because the project includes a drought water management plan and that guides water management in a severe drought and that would be essentially now," he said.  

KCBX contacted all three hydro-geologists involved in the testing of the wells, but they told us they did not feel comfortable speaking about how those tests hold up given the ongoing drought conditions. 

Back to neighbor Tim Toomey, he said that the community does not have the resources to obtain all the experts but common sense says there isn't water. 

"You can find mitigation for almost anything but you can't mitigate the lack of water," he said. 

The County Planning Commission is scheduled to take up this issue in July.