Change is coming to another prominent corner of downtown San Luis Obispo.
San Luis Obispo-based PB Companies LLC has plans for three new four-story mixed-use buildings with restaurant, office and retail space and at least 48 residential units in the area best known as the longtime home of Foster’s Freeze.
The development spans four lots at 570, 578 and 590 Marsh St. (590 was the former Foster’s Freeze restaurant) and at 581 Higuera St.
Called San Luis Square, the project proposes retail on the ground floor, with upper-floor residential units, a public plaza and paths, a pedestrian connection between Marsh and Higuera streets, and underground parking, according to city planners.
“We want to be another space and place that people can come and enjoy,” said Ryan Petetit, CEO of PB Companies. “We think this is a project that the city and its citizens and visitors can embrace and will thoroughly enjoy.”
Two San Luis Obispo advisory bodies, the Architectural Review Commission and the Cultural Heritage Committee, held a joint meeting July 13 to review the conceptual plans and give feedback. The project must still return to the ARC for final review.
John Belsher, Petetit’s partner at PB Companies, said it will likely be several months before that happens. The project is being developed as Marsh Nipomo Mixed Use LLC.
The entire approximately 1-acre area now includes four commercial structures, two of which are vacant: the former Foster’s Freeze at Marsh and Nipomo streets, which closed in November after 65 years, and the former site of Heritage Oaks Bank, which moved to 1144 Morro St.
The two other buildings are a small residence used as an office with two businesses listed and the Jewish Community Center of San Luis Obispo.
JJCC-Federation Executive Director Lauren Bandari said the nonprofit moved to its downtown location a few months ago and is leasing the building from the developers.
“The developer has been generous with the use of space,” Bandari said, “and positive in terms of maintaining a future space” for the organization, though no agreement has been made.
“I think they see the larger community vision for this organization, the importance of maintaining community ties,” she added. Of the plan, Bandari said it would improve one of San Luis Obispo’s gateways.
PB Companies’ website describes its plans as a way “to transform an underutilized block of San Luis Obispo into a hub for commercial and residential life.”
One structure on Marsh Street, called “The 590,” is described as “a building that perfectly infuses small-town charm with urban sophistication” with restaurant, office and retail space, as well as urban loft-style flats.
Nearby and fronting Higuera Street, the “SOHO” currently has 24 residential units, four retail spaces, a rooftop terrace and lounge, public and private roof decks and an outdoor seating area and plaza.
Petetit envisions a public market — a concept similar to but smaller than PB Companies’ San Luis Obispo Public Market plans on the Long-Bonetti Ranch — as well as a Brazilian steakhouse and a South American sushi cocktail lounge.
The project is next to the historic Jack House, with the closest property line along Marsh Street about 125 feet away from the structure. The plans include preservation of the redwood trees along the property line.
The city’s Jack House Committee expressed concerns that the project “would overpower the Jack House and Jack Gardens,” according to a letter read by committee chair Kathi Settle at the meeting.
The committee is also worried about the impact of the proposed underground garage on the redwoods.
Heights of all of the proposed structures exceed 50 feet, which the city allows if the developer achieves at least two policy objectives in the city’s land-use element (one part of its General Plan), including additional affordable housing units, high residential density or public amenities such as a plaza.
Petetit said about 40 percent of the property is designated for pedestrian paseos, public passageways and other public amenities.
Associate planner Rachel Cohen said the ARC discussed the proposed height but didn’t limit it. Commissioners did give direction to make sure the height doesn’t negatively impact the Jack House, she said.
Additional comments from the commission included a possible reduction in the amount of glass in the project. Commissioners also suggested using more high-quality materials, such as stone and brick, rather than wood on part of the facade.
Cohen said more than 20 people spoke during the meeting, offering numerous comments about the need for more housing downtown.
Petetit said the company understands the need for more workforce housing in San Luis Obispo and hopes to build more studios and one-bedroom units than larger dwellings, with a higher density making the housing more affordable. He said the company is looking for creative solutions to increase the number of units proposed.
Petetit estimated that the studios would be about 400 to 500 square feet and possibly sell for $300,000 to $400,000, depending on size and location, or could rent for $1,200 to $1,600 a month.
Across the street at Marsh Street Commons, a mixed-use project with 12 residential units and commercial space, the single-family residences sold in the mid- to high $700,000s, and the lofts in the low to mid-$600,000s, according to a 2013 Tribune report.