SLO County supervisors should approve Dana Reserve housing development. Here’s why | Opinion

This story was originally published April 21, 2024, as an opinion by The Tribune’s Editorial Board


This week, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on one of the biggest housing projects in the history of San Luis Obispo County: the 1,370-unit Dana Reserve development proposed in Nipomo.

The controversial project often gets boiled down to one thing — oak trees vs. housing — though other issues have been raised as well.

Opponents worry about increased traffic and the strain on schools, law enforcement and other local facilities and services.

Proponents, who include members of the YIMBY movement — Yes in My Backyard — counter that housing is desperately needed in a county where the median home price is nearly $850,000.

But it’s the loss of oak tress that has become emblematic and has galvanized opponents throughout the county, along with the belief that the number of affordable homes included in the project doesn’t justify the sacrifice of so much oak woodland.


The 288-acre property located west of Highway 101 had been designated as a light industrial/commercial park with some housing and lots of open space. But as the demand for industrial land decreased and the need for housing skyrocketed, the original plan fell by the wayside.

Development group NKT Commercial, headed by Central Coast native Nick Tompkins, saw the Nipomo property as opportunity to develop housing, along with commercial businesses to serve the residents. (California Fresh Market, a local grocery chain, has signed a letter of intent.)

The project coming to the Board of Supervisors will include a mix of housing types, from subsidized units for very low-income households to high-end homes likely to sell in the $1 million range.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 156 deed-restricted rental units for very low- and low-income families
  • 383 additional multi-family units for rent, with some possibly for sale
  • 124 workforce homes with shared driveways
  • 290 homes on shared lots designated as “missing middle” housing for buyers who don’t qualify for subsidies but can’t afford market-rate housing
  • 417 luxury homes
  • 100 accessory dwelling units spread throughout much of the project.

Homes not in the high-end category are expected to range between $475,000 and $725,000 in today’s dollars. (That part is important, because projects can take years to build out and the ultimate price can be significantly higher.)


Several requirements — such as limits on lot sizes and square footage — have been baked into the project to keep costs as low as possible. According to the applicant, that will make them the lowest-priced new homes in the county.

“Controlling lot size will force home sizes to remain smaller and hence less expensive. Nipomo’s location also helps versus SLO. With this same project in SLO, prices would be much higher, although Nipomo is steadily having prices head north, closer to a $1 million average,” Tompkins said via email.

Tompkins is donating $3.2 million in down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers. And in addition to providing parks and trails, the developer is setting aside land for a daycare center, a Cuesta College South County campus, a fire station and medical services and he’s paying above the required amount in fees for public facility. He also purchased Dana Ridge, an offsite, 388-acre parcel, where 14,000 oak trees will be permanently preserved.

Another thing that makes this project stand out: It will be all-electric. All homes will have solar panels and will be pre-wired for installation of battery backup. The only gas hookups will be in the commercial area.


Tompkins has jumped through numerous hoops during the years-long planning process. For instance, at the behest of the Planning Commission, he increased the number of deed-restricted units and accessory dwelling units.

What he’s not willing to do is walk away. Even if someone were to offer to buy him out, he said he wouldn’t accept.

“Too many families are faced with real housing insecurity because they don’t own a home, face rising rents and virtually no availability,” he told The Tribune Editorial board. “Somebody’s got to house them.”

He should be allowed to do so.


If the county did not want this project to move forward, it should never have encouraged it in the first place. Yet that’s exactly what the Board of Supervisors did on Jan. 26, 2021, when it voted 5-0 to accept the application for processing. That application clearly described the scope of the project, though at 1,270 units, it included 100 fewer homes.

If the board believed the level of development was too intense — that conservation of oak woodland must take precedence — it should have made it clear at that point, before many millions of dollars were invested in a project that has split the community to the point where, whatever the ultimate decision, it’s likely to leave one side or the other feeling betrayed.

Dana Reserve is a prime example of why our planning process is dysfunctional to the point of being nonsensical.

That the Board of Supervisors could deny the project at this late date is absurd. Direction should have been provided at the front end, rather than waiting until the last minute to try to come up with a compromise acceptable to both sides.

To deny the project now — or to shrink it to some insignificant size — would be unconscionable.

It would deprive hundreds of local families (local residents will be given priority) the benefit of the decent, affordable housing that’s becoming almost impossible to find here.

Some of those families already are looking forward to moving to Dana Reserve in the next few years.

There may still be room for some minor compromise, but starting over now would delay construction for years. In the meantime, housing prices are likely to continue to go up.

The time for a major revision has passed. The Board of Supervisors should honor the commitment it made in 2021 and approve the Dana Reserve.

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