AG council ponders mixed-use project

clambert@thetribunenews.comSeptember 26, 2012 

Common sense became a buzzword in Arroyo Grande on Tuesday night, as council members there pondered a proposal to construct apartments and a commercial building on an empty lot surrounded by one-story homes.

Sure, a few local residents and council members acknowledged, the proposed project in southern Arroyo Grande meets the requirements of the city’s land-use laws.

But does it make sense to put 23 two-bedroom apartments, five studio apartments and a 1,004-square-foot commercial building on the corner of South Elm Street and The Pike?

A few residents opposed to the plan argued that it does not, though they said they appreciated the developers’ attempts to respond to some of their concerns.

“Yes, we need housing, but it’s very dense,” said resident Debi Dykzeul. “We’re very worried about the traffic. There’s just not enough room for parking.”

Added resident Stacy Mitchell: “There is city code, and then there’s common sense. It (the project) does not fit this neighborhood in size, appearance or intent of use.”

Arroyo Grande council members didn’t take action on the project, which was approved by the city’s Planning Commission in August and then appealed to the council. The council will review it again Oct. 9.

The property, now owned by Peter Burtness and Annie Roberts of Santa Barbara, has long been reserved under city land-use laws for mixed use, defined as various combinations of residential, office and commercial uses.

The site has been the focus of several proposed projects, including senior housing and townhomes, but none have been built.

Council members were particularly concerned about the intent to include a commercial building, which allows the property owners a higher density.

The council asked staff whether the commercial building could be removed while still allowing the apartments to move ahead. One possibility could be to incorporate the existing 7-Eleven convenience store located on the same corner into the plan.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel the commercial unit is an afterthought,” said Councilman Tim Brown. “You could have a doughnut shop there, maybe, but it just doesn’t feel right.”

Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said that might be possible, though he was worried that doing so could set a precedent for other mixed-use projects.

Project architect Steven Puglisi also reiterated that he told planning commissioners that the developers would abandon the commercial aspect, should they find it appropriate to do so.

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