The Arroyo Grande City Council has put the brakes on a controversial plan for a commercial development and pedestrian square in the heart of the historic Village.
Specifically, the council wants an alternative that will keep Short Street open — at least to one-way traffic — while still providing some pedestrian amenities.
That’s a prudent move, given the amount of public concern the plan has generated. Also, while the project has been in the works for a couple of years, it appears that many residents are only now learning about it. A continuance gives them an opportunity to get up to speed on the plans.
We hope, though, that this doesn’t derail the entire project, because we like many elements of this proposal. First and foremost, it’s a cost-effective way for the city to add some much-needed office space for its employees.
As currently proposed, the city would acquire the large, two-story office building at Mason and Branch Street — the old Farm Credit building — from NKT Commercial. In exchange, NKT would get a couple of smaller, city-owned buildings and a parking area, plus a payment of approximately $1 million.
When you consider that a preliminary estimate put the cost of building a new City Hall at between $6 million and $7 million, this plan makes fiscal sense.
It also is wise from a liability standpoint. Current city offices are not ADA compliant; for example, there are no restrooms accessible to people in wheelchairs, nor is there enough space to enlarge the restrooms. By acquiring the additional office space, the city will be able to resolve that problem, and consolidate several city offices at the same time.
We also like the idea of adding commercial space — especially outdoor dining — in the Village. That portion of the plan will require tearing down a 1950s-era building at 200 E. Branch St. There’s some opposition to the loss of that building, but on balance, we don’t believe the city should bend over backwards to save an unremarkable building with only minor, if any, historic significance.
The Village is a historic gem, but it isn’t a museum. Care should be taken to ensure that changes that do occur enhance the Village, and for that reason, we believe it makes sense to look at a variety of alternatives.
We look forward to seeing the revised plan for Short Street at the next council meeting. The city shouldn’t rush into something it may regret later, but it shouldn’t pass up this opportunity before exploring every option.