Proposed development divides coastal community

February 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Most stories about big waves off Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County are about the Mavericks Surf Contest. But this time, the "big wave" in the area is the name of a proposed development. The plan includes affordable housing for the developmentally disabled, along with a big office complex. The plan is dividing the normally peaceful community.

On sunny weekends, the little town of Princeton-by-the-Sea is crowded with tourists. They come for the seafood and the scenery and just to be near the spot where giant waves draw surfers from all over the world.

In many ways life on the central coast of San Mateo County is ideal, but not if you are a young adult with a developmental disability.

"Lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing, lack of care when the parents get old and the parents die," Jeff Peck said.

Peck's 22-year-old daughter Elizabeth is autistic. He is a coach on her Special Olympics team. Many of the young adults on the team have grown up together.

Most team members still live with their families and many are eager to move out, but there is almost no housing in the area for people with developmental disabilities.

So Peck, who also happens to be a contractor, decided to build some.

"A live-work community; there's going to be a place for a gym, dining room, for educational programs for those with disabilities," he said.

Peck and a partner own a property in Princeton-by-the-Sea. They want to turn it into the Big Wave Wellness Center -- a model community for 57 disabled adults and their caretakers. They promise state-of-the art green buildings, an organic farm and 80 jobs for disabled people. Then, to support the wellness center financially, they want to build a commercial office park next door.

"Create a vibrant center of commerce which benefits the local community and which will create more jobs and revenue for the wellness center," Peck said.

But the plans are being blasted by a long line of critics who say they want to help the disabled, but that this project is too big.

"This is the largest project by far, they've ever considered," Committee for Green Foothills spokesperson Lennie Roberts said. "The 225,000 square feet of office space would double the amount of commercial and office space on the coast south of Pacifica."

Opponents say the development would violate zoning rules -- that it is too close to the airport across the street -- and would bring too much traffic to narrow roads.

There is a mobile home park just to the north and its homeowner association is fighting the plan.

"The buildings are grossly out of scale with the surroundings, the height of the buildings, they are going to rise up right in the middle of this continuous open space," Pillar Ridge Owners Association President Lisa Ketcham said.

Supporters and critics of the Big Wave proposal disagree on virtually every point. The county planning commission has sided with the developers, voting to OK the project.

So opponents, including the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation are appealing to the full Board of Supervisors. The appeal says the environmental impact report was not adequate. One big concern is sensitive wetlands that used to extend on to the Big Wave property but now stops just at the edge.

"Wetlands are very valuable area and we have very few left up and down the state of California," Roberts said.

The developers say they will restore the wetlands on 40 percent of their property. But critics believe the marsh would come back better if the development were a lot smaller.

And while the two sides fight it out, the clock is ticking for people who want to live in the Big Wave center.

Opponents suggest it would be faster and cheaper to set up a group home in some of the mobile homes for sale next door. But Big Wave supporters say they want to build a whole community, not just housing.

The San Mateo Board of Supervisors will not consider the issue until March at the earliest.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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