Looking back: Design for Dalidio site has improved

SLO needs to ensure property includes adequate retail space

letters@thetribunenews.comJuly 28, 2013 

Dalidio Property

Ernie Dalidio’s fields are being used for agriculture.

LAURA DICKINSON — ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

This is one in a series of occasional follow-ups on Tribune opinions. We’ll recap our previous position and update readers on what’s happened since the original editorial was published. If there is an issue you would like us to revisit, email us at letters@thetribunenews.com.

Aug. 7, 2008, editorial headline: “A Dalidio land sale could resolve issues”

What we said then:

While many elements of Dalidio’s ambitious proposal were intriguing — plans included a mix of retail stores, residences, a hotel, an organic farm, farmers market and sports fields — there were concerns about traffic and the overall scale of the proposal. In the long run, it could prove more expeditious to rethink the project and return with a scaled-back design more palatable to opponents.

What’s happened since:

Clint Pearce of Madonna Enterprises and Gary Grossman of Coastal Community Builders have entered into escrow to purchase Ernie Dalidio’s 131-acre ranch, located just outside the San Luis Obispo city limits.

They have a preliminary plan that is quite different from Dalidio’s concept, which was heavy on retail development.

The new plan includes nearly 45 acres of housing; 15 acres of retail space; a hotel/convention center; a small, high-tech business park; a 35-acre organic farm and 10 acres of open space.

What we say now:

Five years later, our position hasn’t changed. We continue to believe that annexation and a mixed-use development is appropriate for this island of property, surrounded by a freeway on one side and a shopping center on another.

We also continue to favor a scaled-down, less ambitious project.

In that respect, there is much to like about the current proposal.

We strongly support the additional housing — particularly if it truly is affordable, since that’s something the city desperately needs. There may be push back from the Airport Land Use Commission, which opposed a large-scale housing development there in the past, but that’s a battle worth fighting.

We question, though, whether the retail component has been scaled back too much, to 200,000 square feet, down from the 530,000 square feet permitted under the voter-approved Measure J initiative.

Also, do we really need another hotel/convention center? The city already has more than 2,000 hotel rooms, and the county as a whole has about 9,000. That’s not counting the hotels and convention centers in the planning stage, including one in Grover Beach and two in Pismo Beach.

In other words, the city is not wanting for hotel rooms.

What the city does lack is popular, mid- to higher-end retail stores. Some examples: Macy’s, Nordstrom, REI, J. Crew, Anthropologie, Tiffany, Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table — all staples at most shopping hubs.

Without at least a few of these, SLO will continue to lose sales tax revenue to Internet retailers, as well as to other communities that offer more variety — Santa Barbara being a prime example.

We recognize that a city the size of SLO is highly unlikely to attract a Nordstrom, but a small Macy’s, similar in size to Santa Maria’s, shouldn’t be out of the question.

Bottom line:

The development of the Dalidio Ranch is an excellent opportunity for the city to bolster its reputation as a regional retail center. This isn’t just about bragging rights, but rather, about the city’s long-term economic health.

We don’t doubt that developers Pearce and Grossman have done their homework and have developed a plan that will pencil out and be an attractive addition to the city.

However, given the importance of sales tax to the local economy, it’s essential to ensure the retail/commercial portion is large enough to accommodate the type of retailers the city lacks — especially since there is limited space elsewhere for large commercial developments.

We strongly urge the city to carefully examine the mix of uses to ensure there’s adequate retail space to serve the community not only in the short term, but also far into the future.

What Dalidio Ranch could look like

Here's a rendering of the proposed Dalidio Ranch development.

Planned Dalidio Ranch development by The Tribune

Tribune graphic by Joe Tarica; rendering courtesy of RRM Design

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