Council approves La Plaza

Project will bring new homes, businesses to downtown

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero City Council approved the long-awaited La Plaza project Tuesday evening, paving the way for a project that will bring 42 residential units and nearly 20,000 square-feet of commercial property to the heart of downtown.

“It’s a very unique place, a very special place,” Atascadero Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore said during his presentation to the Council on the project. “It’s the heart of our community. It’s front and center of everything we see every day.”

The project will fill almost a whole city block along the west side of El Camino Real between Entrada Avenue and East Mall.

The development will consist of two buildings — the “A” building to the north, which will house 14,250 square-feet of commercial space and 38 residential condos; and the ‘B’ building to the south, which will contain 3,750 square-feet of commercial space, two three-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments. Also included will be an 11,000 square-foot pedestrian plaza at the south end of the project. Plans for the plaza are still under development, but ideas include picnic tables, shade structures, a stage and parking for food trucks. A 20-foot wide access road would be left between the plaza and two existing businesses, Klemm’s Fueling Station and La Rosa’s Automotive. Barriers will be installed to prevent pedestrians coming out the nearby tunnel under Highway 101 from entering the access road and to guide them to the new plaza. Plans also include the relocation of a safety-enhanced crosswalk from East Mall to West Mall.

“Essentially, the idea is to improve pedestrian safety, align that with the pedestrian tunnel and align it with future crosswalks to allow for safe passage across El Camino Real,” Dunsmore said.

According to the City’s staff report, the buildings were designed as an “homage to the early days of Atascadero,” and will include many design aspects of the original La Plaza (known as the mercantile) which was built in 1917 and burned down in 1934. Some aspects were taken from the Atascadero Hotel, which occupied the piece of land after the mercantile until it too burned down in 1965. The buildings were also designed to match other nearby historic buildings including Atascadero City Hall, the Atascadero Printery Building and the Carlton Hotel.

The historical tie-ins and the overall quality of the designs won a handful of concessions from the City in the form of conditional use permits to allow for a 45-foot building height (with towers up to 65 feet) and to allow for higher than normal residential density, the abandonment of a small portion of East Mall and easement of a right-of-way in front of the building to allow for outdoor dining spaces.

“What’s really key here is quality and materials and finishes,” Dunsmore said. “We spent a lot of time talking with the applicant team about colors and finishes and the brick being just the right color to make this compliment other developments around the downtown, especially the historical developments.” 

Many members of the public and the local business community spoke in support of the project and the potential it has to stimulate commercial activity in the downtown area with the only real concerns being expressed over parking. But the members of the Council didn’t seem to share those concerns.

“We are used to pulling up to a restaurant, a store and walking right in,” said Council member Heather Moreno. “But if you go to San Luis, you pay to park in a lot or a parking structure and you might walk five, six, seven blocks to get where you want to go. So there might be some growing pains for us but we’re definitely working on the situation. We will get through it and we will have a vibrant, thriving downtown.”

Council member Charles Bourbeau said that he believes the project will bring life and vibrancy to the area and echoed Moreno’s non-concern for the parking situation.

“Frankly, I’m not that concerned about parking,” he said. “I want to have a downtown where people complain about parking because anybody who complains about parking right now is just not real. It’s because we’re spoiled and used to parking in front of where we want to go. I want to have a downtown where I have to park a block away from the theater or the restaurant because it’s so darn busy and there’s so many people down here spending money. I’ll be happy to walk. I want a downtown that has a genuine parking problem.”

Council member Brian Sturtevant and Mayor Tom O’Malley also brushed aside any concerns about parking, noting that the project does conform to parking standards for the area and will include the installation of 89 new off-street parking spaces.

“You’ve more than compensated against any of our concerns,” O’Malley said to the developer, Mike Zappas. “That’s why we really did kind of do a lot of things — we were happy to abandon some right-of-way, happy to waive the height restrictions because it really does fit our community. I think we’ve all said enough, I think let’s just approve this thing so you can go home and get started. Can you start tonight?”

Dunsmore mentioned that construction on the building could begin as soon as 2020 and told the Council that he would return with updated plans for the new pedestrian plaza at a future meeting.


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