Wal-Mart clears a key hurdle in Atascadero

This view of the Del Rio Road overpass over Highway 101 in Atascadero looks toward El Camino Real and the site of the proposed Wal-Mart store in 2012.
This view of the Del Rio Road overpass over Highway 101 in Atascadero looks toward El Camino Real and the site of the proposed Wal-Mart store in 2012.

The ongoing effort to bring a Wal-Mart to Atascadero cleared a bureaucratic but important hurdle Tuesday night when the City Council voted to create a special tax district in order to bill the retail giant for maintenance, lighting and landscaping costs on public property around the yet-to-be-built store.

The move was essentially a formality, as it was requested by Wal-Mart, but the unanimous council vote authorized the city to create a commercial facilities district in order to levy a special tax on the store, so the city is not on the hook for its related costs.

The Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 is normally applied by local governments for large residential projects, but in response to Atascadero’s requirement that all ongoing costs associated with improvements to the public right-of-way at 2055 El Camino Real be completely absorbed by the property owner, Wal-Mart requested the city create the funding mechanism.

The new district encompasses only the parcel at the southeast corner of El Camino Real and Del Rio Road, where the 23,000-square-foot building and 6,500-square-foot garden center will be built. It will only impact Wal-Mart’s corporate owners. The city will conduct the work and cover the immediate maintenance costs and bill the property owner for compensation annually.

That work includes landscaping frontages within the right-of-way around the property and within center medians and a street roundabout, street lighting, street sweeping, storm-drain maintenance and graffiti abatement.

Ground has yet to break on the project, and the first assessment will be billed once there are physical improvements to be made on public property around the parcel.

“We want any new development to pay its fair share, its way, so that new development doesn’t shift costs onto existing residents,” Mayor Tom O’Malley said prior to the council vote. “That way we collect enough in fees that cover all the costs related to the project, as well as any maintenance costs, so that we don’t erode that service level of police, fire or other services.”

The long-awaited and controversial store is expected to generate an estimated $580,000 per year in sales tax revenue, according to city figures.

The project, which drew the ire of residents and the citizens group Save Atascadero, was debated for years and ultimately survived challenges in local and appellate court.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in Spring 2017.

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