The San Luis Obispo City Council will decide the fate today of a long vacant and dilapidated building that was once an orphanage and later a county-run juvenile detention center.
The two-story brick building, known as Sunny Acres, sits on the hilltop above the former General Hospital off Johnson Avenue. It is known for its unique Romanesque architecture — the only of its kind in the county.
The building is within city limits but owned by the county of San Luis Obispo. It has been empty since 1974, and the site has been rife with vandalism and other nuisances since.
The county now wants to declare the building surplus and sell it to someone interested in converting it into a residential use while preserving its historical nature.
The City Council must decide if the county’s plan fits into the city’s General Plan — a question that deadlocked the city’s Planning Commission.
At issue is a longtime desire to see the property dedicated to a public use such as a museum or a botanical garden, versus the ability to preserve the historic building.
“The biggest concern is that it is viewed as a significant historic building, and both the county and the city want to see it preserved, yet neither has the funding to restore the building for a public use,” city planner Phil Dunsmore said. “So the only option is to sell it to a private entity who will be responsible for restoring the building.”
Dunsmore said a lack of funding and lack of interest has left the building vacant for more than 30 years.
Nearly 25 years ago the county considered demolishing the building.
“It’s consistently been this poor, leftover building that no one has the funding to do anything with,” Dunsmore said.
The county long sought commercial uses for the building but realized that the costs associated with the rundown structure are prohibitive, said Caryn Maddalena, the county’s real property manager.
Maddalena said there is a list of interested buyers who want to convert the building into a residential use.
The buyer will be responsible for repairs and upgrades to the building, likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The county, acknowledging the expenses tied to the building, is only asking that the buyer pay the county for the staff costs associated with the project, estimated at about $10,000.
The building was built in 1931 to house orphans and wardens of the court. In the 1950s, it was used as a detention facility for youth.
Various fire and safety code violations led to its vacancy in the 1970s. Now, the building must also be seismically retrofitted, asbestos must be removed from the ceiling, and years of damage from neglect and vandalism such as roof rot and fire damage must be repaired.
The site should not be confused with the controversial rehab center also known as Sunny Acres owned by Dan De Vaul on Los Osos Valley Road.
The county also recently tried to auction off a former courthouse in Paso Robles and more than 1,000 acres in California Valley. There were no bidders on those properties.
The San Luis Obispo City Council will discuss the Sunny Acres building at its 7 p.m. meeting at the Council Chambers, 990 Palm St. in San Luis Obispo.