City set to add new businesses, hundreds of homes in 2020

ATASCADERO — If the number of building permit applications received at City Hall is any indication, the building boom happening in Atascadero will continue in 2020 and beyond with several housing developments and commercial projects in the works.

According to Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore, the City building department received a “flood” of building permit applications at the end of December due to a new California law requiring all new homes to have solar panels that went into effect Jan. 1.

“We had a lot of residential projects submitted from folks who did not want to do solar,” Dunsmore said. 

The City received approximately 65 building permit applications at the end of December, overwhelming City staff and causing them to seek help from outside consultants, Dunsmore said.

“We have a very small staff,” he said. “We have two inspectors who are pretty much out in the field all the time and one guy in-house that actually reviews plan checks so when we get a huge number of submittals, there’s no way we can keep up with the volume and keep our promised turnaround time of three or four weeks for looking at a complete set of plans with every detail.”

Dunsmore said it took about five or six weeks for the City to get caught up on the applications and now, as those projects are getting closer to being constructed, he said that he expects an increased workload for City inspectors. 

“So there’s a lot moving and shaking right now,” Dunsmore said. “There’s definitely a lot happening.” 

The Emerald Ridge housing project, currently under construction on the north end of El Camino Real

HOUSING PROJECTS

According to Dunsmore, there are plans for more than 400 housing units on the books that could see construction beginning in the next year or so — with two housing developments currently being constructed. 

The Emerald Ridge project is under construction on the north end of El Camino Real between San Benito Road and Madera Place — built by the Laughlin Company. The development includes 210 housing units on 7.5 acres that Dunsmore called “high-end apartments.” He noted that the units will be rental apartments and not condos that will be up for sale. 

“They’re really high-quality apartments, really nice looking, not an affordable project,” he said. “It’s probably going to be moderately affordable because it is apartments, but they’re still larger, nicer-quality units, there’s a pool on-site, it’s a really nice project.”

On the south end of town, at the corner of Viejo Camino and Halcon Road, The Groves will consist of 17 luxury homes on 37 acres.

“Those are big, nice luxury homes that will be selling at the top of the market,” Dunsmore said.

The Grand Oaks development, near the intersection of El Camino Real and San Jacinto Avenue, will feature commercial units designed for office space facing El Camino Real with housing units above and an arrangement of small homes in a park-like setting in the rear. The project is being constructed by Cal Coastal Construction.

“We’ve done our first round of reviews, they have some minor things to take care of then they’ll resubmit and they’ll get their permit soon and they’ll start construction,” Dunsmore said.

A 5.4-acre development will bring a mixed commercial and residential development to a parcel near the corner of El Camino Real and Principal Avenue that will include 55 affordably priced residential units, 1,830 square-feet of office space and a drive-thru car wash.

Also on the south end of town, there are plans for 75 housing units on a 3.78-acre lot just south of the entrance to Atascadero State Hospital. The development, being constructed by Hartberg Properties, will include 48 senior apartments, three stories high at the rear of the project, along with 20 three-bedroom townhomes and seven single-family two- or three-bedroom cottages. Project amenities will include gathering and barbecue areas and drought-tolerant landscaping that will use native plants.

Finally, People’s Self-Help Housing has received the go-ahead on their plans to build 40 single-family homes on a parcel near the corner of Del Rio Road and El Camino Real, just south of the site of a proposed Walmart that the company has since decided not to build. Dunsmore said that those homes would be deed-restricted to families under a certain income level.

“They’ve got approval from planning and have submitted for construction plans, so they’re moving forward,” Dunsmore said. “And then there are a smattering of just individual projects and smaller housing projects all over town.”

Hilton’s new Home2 Suites on Del Rio Road is set to open in April.

COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Commercial development in Atascadero is also on the uptick and two large projects — The Hilton’s new Home2 Suites near the corner of Del Rio Road and El Camino Real and the La Plaza project downtown — are already under construction. Dunsmore said the new Hilton hotel, which began construction in late 2018, should be open for business some time in April.

“They basically have some exterior landscaping and some interior finish work to be done and they’re training employees, so they’re close to the finish line,” he said.

Z Villages’ La Plaza, which Dusnmore called the largest planned commercial construction project in town, is scheduled to be completed in the Spring of 2021 and will add 42 residential units along with more than 18,000 square-feet of commercial space. Z Villages is also constructing a smaller commercial project made from shipping containers nearby at 6900 El Camino Real that will bring a beer garden, custom hat shop and an ice cream shop to downtown Atascadero.

The empty lots around the intersection of Del Rio Road and El Camino Real is set to see a major buildout in the near future. Along with the Hilton and the People’s Self-Help Housing project in the area, the intersection will also soon see the construction of a new Taco Bell restaurant, a service station and a 200,000 square-foot business part that would include office, industrial and warehouse spaces.

“There’s significant deband for that jobs-based, small industry, tech, manufacturing, business park, office use,” Dunsmore said.

Dunsmore was not able to say what will be happening with the recently vacated K-Mart building but he did confirm that the building was recently purchased and could become something “exciting.” 

“We will have some news on that soon,” he said. “There’s nothing confirmed but people are talking, people are investigating and people were out there today measuring things and looking at things and there was an architect and a developer in (City Hall) today but nobody is willing to tell us yet exactly what is happening. He’s going after a couple of different tenants. The most likely scenario is that the former K-Mart space gets broken into two big spaces and they’ll probably become really cool things.” 

Dunsmore was able to confirm, however, that a new Panda Express restaurant will be coming to the Vons shopping center in the near future. 

“Panda Express has submitted for construction permits to build where the Pizza Hut used to be next to Verizon,” he said. “They’re actually going in there.”

Dunsmore also reported that the new Santa Maria Brewing Co. location at 2935 San Luis Avenue will finally be opening soon, more than two years after they announced plans to open in Atascadero. The company also operates a taproom in Nipomo and a restaurant and brewery in Paso Robles. 

“Santa Maria Brewing is finalizing the interior and about to open,” Dunsmore said. “We just issued them a temporary certificate of occupancy two weeks ago so they can start brewing beer, training staff and setting up furnishings. It will be a full-service restaurant, brewery and distillery. It’s going to be a big space and a neat spot.”

An empty lot at Atascadero’s Colony Square could soon be an 88-room boutique hotel.

COLONY SQUARE

Colony Square, in the heart of downtown Atascadero, is home to Galaxy Theater, Que Pasa Mexican Cafe, recent addition SloDoCo Donuts and Wild Fields Brewhouse along with several empty storefronts and three large dirt lots, one of which currently serves as a makeshift parking area. 

The area is meant to be the crown jewel of downtown, but it has fallen short of that title in its execution so far. A planned boutique hotel and two additional commercial developments have yet to materialize, the existing commercial spots have had trouble retaining tenants and one storefront has remained empty since it was constructed in 2010. 

Dunsmore said that Colony Square is “very important to the overall success of the downtown.” 

“This isn’t supposed to be a theater with dirt lots and a building back here, it’s supposed to be kind of like a plaza or mall or paseo type setting where people park in different locations and they walk into it, that kind of a thing,” he said. “People park in these dirt lots but it’s really just an interim thing, it’s not part of our long-term plan. It looks kind of funky.”

Hopes for the plaza are at the highest they’ve been in years with the addition of Wild Fields and SloDoCo, and Dunsmore said that there are also still plans to build an 88-room boutique hotel on an L-shaped lot, half of which currently serves as parking with the other half continuing around the corner toward the newly constructed bridge over Atascadero Creek.

“(Developer) Jeff Nelson wants to build that, he’s going to build that,” Dunsmore said, “but he’s still working on getting the right operator.”

Dunsmore confirmed the rumors that Nelson has shown hesitancy to build the hotel while the lots across the way remain empty. 

Dunsmore explained, “He has basically said ‘look, that center parcel especially is critical to the synergy of my hotel. If I have hotel guests in a space looking down onto a dirt lot, that doesn’t do anything for me, so I want to work with that property owner to make sure something happens and if he won’t do anything, I want to work with him to do something on an interim basis on that property, to make it like a park or plaza like setting with food trucks and things like that if he doesn’t want to build it out.’ So we’re working on that kind of a concept right now.” 

Dunsmore said that the owner of the other two empty lots doesn’t currently have any plans to build anything on them and that the City is “trying to encourage him to either do something or move on and maybe make the properties available for sale.” 

“We’re really concerned about that,” he added. “That is going to be a focus of ours, to try to encourage some development in that area.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero