The plan for Garden Street Terraces — the hotel, commercial, retail space and residential condos proposed for downtown San Luis Obispo — is back in the hands of city officials after a substantial redesign.
Overall, the changes fall in line with the requirements of the environmental impact report, and recommendations of the council and community to reduce the scale of the project and preserve historic resources, said local architect George Garcia.
In June, the City Council certified the EIR after public testimony on the project, and asked developer WestPac Investments to return at a later date for approval of the project design. Some critics had concerns about the height of the project and retention of historic buildings.
As part of the redesign, the height of the entire development, proposed for the stretch of Marsh Street from Broad to Garden streets, has been reduced — to 50 feet or less from up to 74 feet in the previous version of the plan.
“The majority of the building is two to three stories, and one element, which is a bank of rooms in the hotel portion, is four stories,” Garcia said.
Among the project’s features is one level of underground parking accommodating 75 spaces for valet and retail parking. The project will be 125,000 square feet, with 25,000 of that being rebuilt retail spaces, Garcia said.
As well, there will be 48 hotel rooms — compared to 95 in the initial plan — and eight residential units, down from 34 in the previous version.
But one of the more dramatic changes is that the existing buildings on Garden Street will be retained, Garcia said.
The building housing Downtown Brew, as well as the facades of the historic buildings — the Smith building, the Laird Building and San Luis Traditions on Marsh Street — will remain the same.
“We are not touching any of those buildings at all,” Garcia said. “We will restore them to their original condition and leave them be.”
The project now includes more walkways, which will take pedestrians from Higuera Street, down Bubblegum Alley, across Garden Alley and through the heart of the project.
A neighborhood market is also still part of the plan.
City planner Tyler Corey said the changes will now go to the Cultural Heritage Committee and then to the Architectural Review Commission before the City Council gives its final approval.
The council may not see the redesign until June.
Council members already have approved the EIR, and also approved a 99-year lease agreement with the developer for the city parking lot at 736 Marsh St., across from Big Sky restaurant. As part of that deal with WestPac Investments, the city will lend the developer up to $2.4 million from the city’s parking fund.
WestPac will pay base rent annually to the city for the site and will also pay a percentage rent of 1.5 percent of gross individual hotel room revenues that exceed $71,500 per room per year, starting in year 15 of the lease.
As well, the developer is required to make a onetime payment of $1.86 million for the loss of public parking spaces.
If all goes as planned with approval of the design changes, the developer, Garden Street SLO Partners, could obtain the necessary construction documents and apply for building permits sometime this summer, city planner Tyler Corey said.
While the changes have taken several months to complete, Carol Florence, a principal planner for Oasis Associates Inc., which has worked closely with city planners, is confident that the latest iteration of the project will meet the approval of city leaders.
“We’re happy, city staff is happy, the Downtown Association and the council will be happy,” she said. “And we now have a project that will be affordable to build. It was quite ambitious before.”Construction isn’t likely to begin until late 2012, Garcia said.
“We will likely start with the new commercial retail spaces and underground parking, as well as the seismic retrofitting of the historic brick buildings along Garden Street. The hotel and residential components would likely follow shortly,” Garcia said.
Mayor Jan Marx has not seen the redesigned project. However, she said that she supports the project in concept and believes that the city and WestPac “came up with a very good deal for everyone involved.”
“The developers have been very responsive to community input and are talented and creative people. I’m looking forward to what they’re going to do,” she said.