An ongoing legal battle over a Walmart coming to Atascadero continues to leave its future in question.
Once slated to open as early as this year, the yet-to-be-built shopping center planned for the city’s north end has no date for a groundbreaking, city officials say.
“No one is talking about a Walmart construction timeline until we finish the legal process,” city Community Development Director Warren Frace said.
Controversy over whether a Walmart was right for Atascadero embroiled the community in a debate for nearly a decade. Ultimately, the Atascadero City Council approved the retail giant’s shopping center, as well as an adjacent retail complex called The Annex, in summer 2012.
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Both projects include shopping, dining and some housing at El Camino Real and Del Rio Road.
After the city’s approval, the citizens group Save Atascadero sued the city, claiming Atascadero violated state environmental laws by not fully vetting the projects. A year later, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge ruled that the city wasn’t in violation. Save Atascadero then appealed.
Its lawsuit aims to stop the centers from being built so further study of their impacts to roads, traffic and air quality could be done. The city is preparing for the appeal hearing, which Frace expects to take place this summer in the state Court of Appeal in Ventura. A specific court date has not been scheduled, he added.
Save Atascadero spokesman Tom Comar said his group isn’t frustrated by the legal process.
“I think we have a legitimate argument about the way the (environmental report) was conducted,” he said. “I think Wal-Mart realizes that legal delays are a part of the development process.”
Save Atascadero is seeking to stop the project so further study of the impacts — mainly to roads — can be done. It is also seeking attorney's fees.
Wal-Mart officials say they stand by the city’s approval of the project.
“While we await final resolution, our customers can feel confident that as part of the city's rigorous development review process, an environmental impact report was prepared, reviewed and approved,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia told The Tribune.
Meanwhile, Montecito Bank & Trust, the lender that now owns The Annex, is seeking new developers. Santa Barbara-based The Rottman Group originally owned The Annex, but the firm suffered financial trouble in 2012 and lost the bulk of the property when the bank bought it for $2.5 million at a public foreclosure auction.
“They are still an owner to this day and they are shopping the project,” city planner Alfredo Castillo said of Montecito Bank & Trust. “We’ve had preliminary discussions with interested parties interested in developing it.”
The bank is listing The Annex property for sale, about 11 acres with project approvals, for nearly $4.9 million, a company spokeswoman said.
It’s not clear if The Rottman Group still owns part of The Annex, as it did in 2012, since Castillo said city records now list the “El Camino 1800 Trust” as the owner of a small plot of land within the property.