About four months after the release of an environmental review of Atascadero’s long debated and controversial Walmart proposal, the developers continue to disagree on how to pay for traffic improvements.
The Atascadero City Council will be asked tonight to mediate between the two groups on how to fund a $3 million to $4.5 million Del Rio Road freeway interchange at Highway 101, a traffic improvement that consultants say is needed if the retail giant opens on the north side of town.
Three roundabouts on Del Rio Road are also recommended, as well as additional improvements.
The applicants are Wal-Mart Stores Inc., proposing a commercial and residential project, and the Santa Barbara-based Rottman Group, which wants to build an adjacent shopping center called The Annex.
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While the projects are separate, the applicants submitted a joint specific plan that consultants used to determine what environmental impacts the developments could have on roads, noise and the environment.
In the original deal, Wal-Mart said it would pay for the entire environmental review and the traffic improvements it recommended, said Keith Mathias, Rottman’s senior vice president. But now Wal-Mart is asking to split those costs, he added.
“Rottman had an understanding with Wal-Mart that they would pay since they’re the much bigger store,” Mathias said. “But now they’re looking at us since our square footages are about the same after they downsized.”
On Monday, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the retailer remains committed to paying its “full fair share” — estimated to be more than $1.7 million — toward the construction of traffic improvements.
But what remains in question is where that money would come from. The city could use the developers’ already-planned traffic impact fees. Developers pay those fees to the city to fund regional road improvements where development occurs.
Whether Wal-Mart’s estimated $1.7 million contribution would come from traffic impact fees was not clear Monday. Mathias said the combined traffic impact fees from both developers would total around $3 million. His impact fees total about $1.5 million, he said.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart critics fear city funds could be used.
A group called Save Atascadero says it’s “adamantly opposed to using taxpayers money” to fund any part of required traffic improvements.
Wal-Mart is going forward with a scaled-back plan compared with failed proposals in 2007. The development is now slated to have 123,000 square feet of retail and grocery items plus about 6,500 square feet of outdoor garden services.
The Annex would have more than 120,000 square feet of commercial space with the option for a single-family residential development.
Wal-Mart’s parcel also includes about 10,000 square feet for two commercial lots and space for a 44-unit multifamily residential development.