I agree with the Atascadero Design Review Committee’s cold reception to allowing a medical office on the ground level in the Colony Square complex in the heart of the downtown.
Such a use would be a waste of valuable retail space in a project that is in desperate need of pedestrian foot traffic. The theater and restaurants are a good start to a center that will attract people, but a medical office will not.
And I concur with one member of the committee, Planning Commissioner Chuck Ward, who said such a use would be all right on the second floor.
When the city adopted its first downtown plan, crafted by a cross-section of community leaders, the plan precluded anything but retail businesses on the street level floor as an allowed use. Professional uses, such as doctors, attorneys, accounts and similar businesses, were authorized uses on the second floor. The idea was to keep those street-level spaces available to shoppers.
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But within months of that new plan, there was a surge from local downtown business owners to allow non-retail uses on the bottom floor. The prevailing council at the time caved in, believing that getting any renter in the downtown area, even if it was not retail, was better than an empty storefront. So the rules were changed.
If we let non-retailers take up ground floor space in the Colony Square, then we might as well not have built the center and just left it as it was.
Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi agreed that a medical office would be welcome in the center but not in the location requested by the applicant.
I’m glad Councilman Bob Kelley agreed, too, and was concerned that any new construction also mirrors that which is nearing completion and filling now.
In addition to having two council members on the Design Review Committee, there are also two planning commissioners and a member at large.
The medical practice office wants to go in a building that will be near Atascadero Creek and the proposed pedestrian bridge. This is even more reason to hold on to this space for retail uses — to attract shoppers who may be strolling by on a pathway and bridge connecting Colony Square to the rest of downtown.
I applaud the Design Review Committee’s vigilance in seeing that Atascadero does in fact attract and encourage a nice variety of retailers to settle into the downtown.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears here every week. He can be reached at 466-8529 or email@example.com.