Planning Commission draws crowd

Packed attendance for the Atascadero Planning Commission, Aug. 6. (photo by Camas Frank)

ATASCADERO — The City of Atascadero Planning Commission isn’t used to agenda packs weighing in at a pound-and-a-half of paper, noted Chairman Tom Zirk at a specially scheduled meeting of the City’s administrative body Aug.6, but items regarding expansion plans for the North County’s only homeless shelter and a proposed mini-storage business encompassed many studies and drew enough interest to pack the chamber for the night.

After presentations from the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO)’s Board Chair, Eric Gobler, and their Executive Director, Wendy Lewis, summarized the long campaign of development they’d gone through to reach this of operations, the Commission voted 5-0 to allow an additional 10 beds at the facility on Atascadero Avenue and permitting for 24 hour, 7 day-a-week operations.

Atascadero resident Lon Allen, whose home overlooks the ECHO location, said that through the years he’s had more issues with the residents in his condominium homeowners association than he has with the clients seeking services nearby. 

He and the majority of other residents speaking on the item shared Lewis’ concern for the wellbeing of homeless individuals who were able to use the shelter’s services at night but had until now needed to leave the site during the day, regardless of weather or their physical condition. 

Congregants at the Atascadero Bible Church also came to speak on the item, with a crossover between their membership and the governing board of ECHO. Some addressed the issue of trash and other items left in the neighborhood, making note of one resident’s concern but adding that students from the nearby high school contribute more to daily litter than do the organization’s clients.

Further down the agenda, after an evening break, was consideration of a proposed 81,000 sq. ft. mini-storage complex at Viejo Camino and El Camino Real, just inside the city’s southern limits.

Residents in opposition from an adjacent neighborhood  claimed the site as a prime gateway setting the tone for entrance to the City, not an argument that found much sympathy among the Commissioners, but concerns over appropriate wetland development, or lack thereof, along with the appropriateness of the project under current zoning did peel off two votes from the majority.

Chairman Zirk and Commissioner Tori Keen, the newly appointed replacement for now-former Commissioner Ellen Beraud, dissented.

“This is above our paygrade. I believe this should go to the City Council,” Chairman Zirk said, adding that he appreciated the residents’ for coming out to take an interest. 

Among the issues he asked about that were not addressed in the filed plans were potential access from 70 ft. semi-trailers and larger cross country vehicles.

Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore told the Commission that staff were, “on the fence,” regarding the project’s appropriateness for the site as a conditional use permit being asked for under Public Use zoning would likely be excluded from future code updates. It was, he said, an inherited relic from the County’s 1970’s era land-use code, which staff felt was no longer appropriate. 

Chairman Zirk later added that he encourages residents to file an appeal to take the matter to the City Council, although it was not something he planned to do himself despite his position on the matter. 

According to the City’s code regarding appeals, any aggrieved individual can file for the matter to be brought to the Council’s attention, although members of the Planning Commission and the City Council are the only ones who can do so free of charge. 

According to the fee schedule updated July 29, 2019, an appeal to the Council costs an individual $1,058, representing 70 percent cost recovery for the process.


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