Council votes ‘No’ to staff time

ATASCADERO — Members of the Atascadero City Council agreed Tuesday that the needs — in this case, economic needs — of the many outweigh the needs of one property owner.

In a 3-1 vote, with Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi absent and Councilwoman Susan Funk dissenting, the body denied the application from Eric Cleveland to rezone an Atascadero Avenue property for subdivision.

Ironically they agreed with the unofficial assessment of the City’s Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore that the 4.62-acre property was an if not inevitable, at least natural, fit for development on four separate plots. Unlike adjoining properties further south, a sewer line already abuts the property on two sides leaving easy access for hook up, and as Cleveland said he understood the situation, the only reason the property wasn’t already included in smaller residential zoning was that the previous property owner, a cousin of former Mayor Tom O’Malley, didn’t want his status changed.

It was a matter discussed with O’Malley during a walkthrough visit after purchasing the property in 2014, Cleveland said, when he was told the City would not entertain applications to change the parcel’s status amidst all the staff time and resources being devoted to a proposed Walmart and other development along Del Rio.

Five years later to rezone the lot requires a special amendment to the General Plan or for the property owner to wait until the plan is updated on its own, a process which could take another five years to go into effect.

While Dunsmore cast out the idea of processing outreach and other obligations a General Plan amendment would entail, “as time permits,” between other priority projects set by Council, they weren’t biting.

“I’ve said before that I’m generally in favor of private property rights,” said Mayor Pro Tem Charles Bourbeau, adding that owners have a reasonable expectation to be able to do what they will within reason, and he added, “I like staff’s willingness to try to work this request in.”

But, he added, he was also OK with asking the applicant to wait another year or two because it was unclear where staff would “work in” more than they’ve already been asked to process through 2019.

For the moment, Dunsmore listed, they’re booked out with downtown redevelopment projects, hotels and another expected project on Del Rio, all much larger in terms of meeting the City’s economic development needs. He’s also hoping that “they don’t lose” a member of staff in the process, he added, alluding to possible career changes planned for one of his team.

Whereas, Mayor Heather Moreno said, past Councils had interpreted business friendliness to be a helpfulness to applicants generally, the newly elected Council was steering staff resources toward more limited objectives.

“It’s hard [to say ‘No’] but we need to keep staff focused,” she said in casting the deciding vote on the motion put forward by Bourbeau and seconded by Councilwoman Heather Newsom.

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