The Atascadero City Council on Tuesday allowed city staff to start talks with developers about how to fund traffic improvements that national retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and shopping center The Annex once said they’d fund.
Four months after an environmental review was released, the developers are at an impasse on how to pay for the $3 million to $4.5 million Del Rio Road freeway interchange project at Highway 101.
The environmental consultants say the interchange is needed if the projects open.
In October 2007, Wal-Mart officials said they would pay for the environmental review and improvements recommended for the project by consultants. It’s unclear whether that meant The Annex would pay as well.
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However, now both developers say they want to use their traffic impact fees — which total about $3 million combined — toward that cost.
Developers pay traffic impact fees to cities regardless.
City staff on Tuesday presented a cost-sharing breakdown for the traffic improvements, which seemed to show that the city would now pitch in as well.
It appears that by entering into talks, the developers are looking for the city to share some of the roadwork costs, although officials didn’t say so at the meeting.
The talks are meant to discuss funding options and construction phases of the projects to help developers overcome their impasse, according to the city.
Dozens of citizens spoke for about an hour about Wal-Mart. The group was about evenly split between supporters and critics.
Some had concerns with the city entering into closed-door discussions with the developers, while others urged them to do so to move the project along.
Mayor Tom O’Malley said the talks are not negotiations with the developers but only a discussion of what options lay ahead.
“Any decisions will be made in front of this council,” O’Malley said.
Wal-Mart officials said the company would pay an estimated $1.7 million toward traffic improvements. The figure represents a cost estimate from a third-party engineer who determined what Wal-Mart should pay, attorney and Wal-Mart representative Ellen Berkowitz said. An undisclosed part of that money would come from the traffic impact fees, she said.
In her presentation Tuesday, Berkowitz said the estimated $1.7 million was Wal-Mart’s “fair share.”
Some members of the public respected that position, while others were skeptical.
“Is that fair to Wal-Mart — fair to us?” asked Llyn Hunter of Atascadero.
The Rottman Group, the developer for The Annex, said it would pay about $1.5 million in traffic impact fees if its Walmart-adjacent shopping center is approved.
The council didn’t discuss whether it prefers to use the developers’ traffic impact fees on something else.
These issues and others are to be discussed with the developers, officials said. A timeline for the talks was not disclosed Tuesday.