Vallemar Bluffs: Building Safely out of Harm’s Way – a Success Story

Vallemar Bluffs is the last remaining undeveloped blufftop in the Midcoast area of Moss Beach. In addition to its sweeping coastal views, rocky cliffs and erodible bluffs, the site supports environmentally sensitive Coastal Prairie Grasslands where four rare plants are found, including the endangered Coast Yellow Leptosiphon. There is an informal trail along the blufftops that members of the public have enjoyed for many decades. Neighbors have built three benches overlooking the coast, adding to the trail’s charm.

Several attempts to develop homes on the property’s seven lots over the past 25 years had been unsuccessful, primarily due to the lack of a community water supply. This impediment was resolved when the local water district obtained a new, reliable water source. In 2015, the owners of the property engaged consultant Owen Lawlor of Lawlor Land Use to help obtain the necessary approvals for development. They submitted revised plans proposing to build five homes instead of seven, acknowledging that two of the previously approved lots were perilously close to the eroding bluffs.

Committee for Green Foothills, the Midcoast Community Council, and neighbors were still concerned about the proposed development of the fifth house, which appeared to be too close to the bluffs for long term safety, especially with increased erosion due to sea level rise. Building on this lot would also have impacted significant areas of Coastal Prairie Grassland habitat and blocked public views from Juliana Avenue.

Committee for Green Foothills engaged Bob Battaglio and Louis White of Environmental Science Associates (ESA), widely acknowledged as experts in coastal erosion. ESA conducted an independent evaluation of the projected bluff erosion. Their report was key to finding a solution that was acceptable to the developers, Committee for Green Foothills, and the community.

The developer agreed to remove the fifth house from their plans and reduce the number of building sites to four. The final result was unanimously approved by the County Planning Commission, with about one acre of the site permanently protected by a Conservation Easement that restricts any activities or development within the Coastal Terrace Prairie habitat. Permanent funding for ongoing maintenance and habitat enhancement will be provided by a fee on the four homes. Long term monitoring of the Conservation Easement, also funded by fees on the homes, will be done by an independent Land Trust. A public access easement that will allow the existing trail to be moved inland as the bluffs erode is also a vitally important element of the approved Coastal Development Permit. Committee for Green Foothills is happy to have been part of this process that achieved a win-win solution.

We would like to thank the folks on the Lawlor Land Use team for being willing to work with us and with the community. The approved project will ensure that the four new homes are located in the safest possible area of the property and provide permanent protection for this important habitat.

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