Mixed-use development at Del Rio and San Ramon roads pushes modern concepts

On Tuesday, April 28, the Atascadero City Council discussed the intent and purposes of a proposed project named Barrel Creek that would build on the northwest corner of the US 101 and Del Rio Road interchange. The property was characterized by the designer and developer as a “destination entertainment venue” built for artisans, restaurants and residents.

The property is currently the location of the Legacy Church (formerly First Assembly) food service program and location of the First Assembly harvest festivals in years past. The rolling elevation of the area restricts a broad variety of developments, and the developer Eric Tienken with RRM principal Scott Martin presented a multi-use concept that included a boutique hotel, short-term rentals, apartments, townhomes, and restaurant-retail.

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City of Atascadero’s aerial concept of Barrel Creek.

Atascadero City Development Director Phil Dunsmore presented the project to the council and public, discussing how the project fits into an amended Del Rio specific plan and ultimately an amended general plan. In order to move forward with the project, which will require a rezoning of six lots from residential to a mixed-use zoning that would allow for hundreds of residents and visitors to the Del Rio and San Ramon area.

“It is a huge increase in density, which is why it is a huge ask,” councilperson Charles Bourbeau said. “I guess I’m impressed by these drawings. The concern is how it plays out for the existing residents on San Ramon.”

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The project has not been formally submitted for permits from the City, and the discussion surrounded providing the applicant feedback to prepare for the costs and planning associated with developing a project of this scale. Addressing chief concerns, Tienken insisted that the first phase of his plan involves direct neighborhood outreach.

“I want to make sure it is complementary to the community,” councilperson Heather Newsom said. “I think it is important to tie [the neighborhood] into the project, but the developers have shown they are willing to work with the residents.”

During Dunsmore’s presentation, he answered council questions as to how the project fits with the development across US 101 at the “Walmart” site.

“It makes sense to have one specific plan at one commercial node and have all the traffic and planning working toward one common goal,” Dunsmore said. “There is cost savings by having one specific plan.”

Specifics in the project are still working at a high level of design and detail, and drilling down into the project over time is expected to clarify specifics as to how the finer points of the project, including walking paths or playground options to support the residential development.

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“We will ask them to clarify specific items,” Dunsmore said. “We would then ask them to report at some point to the planning department to make sure they are working toward those details.”

The character of the area is rural and, although traffic on Del Rio is heightened due to the adjacent Apple Valley neighborhood, the increase in density proposed by the Barrel Creek would dramatically increase traffic for current and future residents.

“It is a big ask to convert all this property and zoning,” Bourbeau said. “I’m usually pro-development, but this is a big ask. What is the benefit to the city?”

The architect, Martin, provided a visual and verbal presentation to the council, describing in detail the various aspects of the project in the conceptual level as it stands.

“This is not your standard 1980s development,” Martin said. “This is a destination, and something that can put Atascadero on the map. It is a place where you can get a cup of Joebella in the morning, go for a sandwich from Hush Harbor, and back in the evening for a cocktail. This is something that many of our residents are yearning for.”

The mixed-use of Barrel Creek is unique to Atascadero, and the designer and developer both described the project as an exciting development to attract business and visitors to the area, and were faced with concerns from local residents about the compatibility with the current character.

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Conceptual drawing of Atascadero’s variety and scale goals.

“The housing is not driving the project, the commercial is not driving the project,” Martin said. “There is a necessary balance … that we are trying to create with this project. This is right on target with a lot of your economic policies.”

Moving forward with a project in the midst of the current pandemic speaks to a commitment by the developer to the area, and Tienken confirmed he had done his due diligence before making a commitment to build and contribute to the character of Atascadero as whole.

“We looked all over the area,” Tienken said, “from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, and we picked Atascadero as the ideal place for this kind of project.”

Making that concept fly with the current residents on San Ramon and across Del Rio Road in Apple Valley will require direct communication and Tienken reiterated that as a top priority, before moving forward with more serious studies, such as traffic.

“That can only come out of intense meetings with the neighbors,” Tienken said. “That is the first step and then jump into a traffic study.”

The development will follow the experiential retail and restaurant model, that allows for people to see the food being made by the artisans and a visit to Barrel Creek would include a tour-like experience. The natural topography and nature of the area lends itself to that experience and the developer promised to enhance the current nature, not dampen it.

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The Atascadero City Council meets virtually with Scott Martin of RRM, and Barrel Creek developer Eric Tienken.

“We are going to be overemphasizing, not flattening,” Tienken said. “You will see some elevation changes, and we plan on keeping every single tree.”

In addition, the developer incentivized moving forward with his project by promising a focus on economy, including transient occupancy tax.

“We have not done the study, but we expect that the owners of these businesses will be head of household jobs,” Tienken said. “We want to outperform what the city has done in terms of the jobs-to-housing ratio.”

Following the delivery by the designer and developer, public comment was opened up to callers.

Concerns included traffic along San Ramon, as well as the height of the development in terms of privacy for neighboring backyards. Others commented in support, citing the economic and housing benefits of the concept.

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“I am in support of this,” Alana Reynolds said. “I appreciate all the questions everyone had. When I go to a community, I want to pull off and quickly find restaurants. It is exactly what that area needs and the City of Atascadero will benefit from it.”

While the upside of a development like Barrel Creek hits the marks that Atascadero is looking for, considering and adapting the concept to meet the concerns of neighbors.

“When I do the math, I come up with 460 people on this acreage,” local resident Bill Schaefer said. “If you stop for a moment and feel the impact of that, you have 450 people where there might have been 16 or 18 people, so I ask the council to look at this … it would be a very dangerous time to make this decision.”

Other neighbors praised the project, but cited concerns.

“The project is a fabulous idea,” local resident and businessman Geoff Auslen said. “My concern, as I live in the area, is traffic and San Ramon being a back road and Del Rio being a thoroughfare. I have concerns about additional traffic.”

Other concerns from local neighbors in the Apple Valley development or on San Ramon, and public comments sent by email included objections that the density of the development does not fit with the rural character of the area.

Atascadero resident Lee Perkins sent an email to the City and asked for the council to consider walking areas, play areas for children, and consideration for entrepreneurs as opposed to chain restaurants, and urged affordable housing be planned into the project.

“Hey, this is really going to change the rural area, and others saying this is really the right thing,” Atascadero mayor Heather Moreno said. “We are not amending the general plan or making changes or approving the project. We are deciding if we should move forward in considering this project.”

The review of the project concluded with a point-by-point analysis of the project from use, compatibility, and traffic. Upon review and discussion with Dunsmore, the council voted 4-0 — councilperson Roberta Fonzi recused herself from the discussion as her employer was working as the real estate agent on the project — to allow the project to enter the application process, where further review will occur with public input.