Developers pull proposal for retreat center at Daly City state beach

Builders conducted special testing but the study never arrived

Plans for a retreat center atop a popular Daly City beach have been withdrawn, The Examiner has learned.

On a privately owned, 4.27-acre site just south of Fort Funston, a Palo Alto developer proposed building a two-story religious retreat center on bluffs looking over Thornton State Beach. The beach west of Highway 35 has technically been closed since at least 2009 but is still frequented by hikers, dogs and horses from the adjacent Mar Vista Stables.

Locals had opposed the project, citing environmental concerns and wanting to keep the place an open recreational space. More than 11,000 people signed a petition to keep the site accessible to the public.

Sand Hill Property Company asked to withdraw the project at 2152 Olympic Way in a letter to the Daly City Planning Division dated July 26. No reason to halt the process was cited in the letter.

“I will only say that we have decided not to move forward with the project at this time,” said Steve Lynch, director of planning and entitlements at Sand Hill.

Before the project could go through the regular approval process, the California Coastal Commission required a special geological study to determine hazards and development viability. Phillip Seitzer, a Daly City resident, appealed the permit, arguing that it’s invasive to the habitat and could destabilize the bluffs. Activists warned that the land was not developable on unstable Daly City cliffs prone to erosion and that it should be preserved for the public.

Permits were ultimately approved and testing was conducted earlier this year, but the study never came.

Nevertheless, organizers who galvanized locals against the proposal cheered its demise.

“The fact that they won’t release it speaks volumes,” said Annie Ellicott, one of the organizers who lives in San Francisco. “Everything was moving rapidly and then it just stopped. It was a great relief to us. We really do believe that land would be better out of private hands, in some sort of a public-private partnership where it can be safeguarded and preserved for open space.”

While Ellicott said many reasons could have contributed to the decision, the unreleased study would help Daly City and other potential developers determine the future of the site. Activists hope the land can be purchased and, at the very least, make safety and trail improvements.

The organizing group of about 15 people is in a “period of reassessment” to see what locals want and could reasonably do for the site.

“I think that we definitely raised visibility within the community,” Ellicott said. “We need to find out what is possible because it would be great to go one step further here instead of leaving it the way it is now.”

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