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4-story hotel, retail project to move forward in SLO despite residents’ concerns

An exterior rendering of the mixed-use commercial/retail and hotel building at 1042 Olive St. in San Luis Obispo. The project was approved by the San Luis Obispo City Council and the Architectural Review Commission.
An exterior rendering of the mixed-use commercial/retail and hotel building at 1042 Olive St. in San Luis Obispo. The project was approved by the San Luis Obispo City Council and the Architectural Review Commission.

A proposed four-story, mixed-use project on Olive Street in San Luis Obispo, located next to a Taco Bell restaurant at the intersection with Santa Rosa Street, will move forward after the City Council rejected an appeal of the city’s Architectural Review Commission approval.

The nearly 24,000-square-foot project includes ground-floor commercial and retail space and 17 extended-stay hotel rooms; parking will be shared between the hotel guests and businesses at the site.

The proposed project, between the Taco Bell and the Ramada Inn along a stretch of Olive Street regularly used by motorists to access Highway 101 South, will be on a lot that has been vacant for decades. It was approved by the ARC in October.

The design concept incorporates solar panels on the roof, which is the developer’s choice and not a city policy, though the city encourages architects to include renewable energy features, San Luis Obispo Community Development Director Michael Codron said.

The council voted 3-2 to reject the appeal Tuesday, with dissenting votes cast by Councilwoman Andy Pease and Mayor Heidi Harmon. Harmon appreciated the renewable energy features but not the entirety of the design.

We think the project design is a symptom of too much deference to architects and developers with very little regard to the adopted guidelines.

David Brodie, San Luis Obispo resident who filed an appeal of the project’s approval

San Luis Obispo resident David Brodie appealed the project’s approval by the ARC, contending that it didn’t conform to applicable city regulations and guidelines. He cited 21 concerns in his appeal to the city.

Among his complaints: At four stories, the building would be too big compared with neighboring structures that are smaller; its design is too “boxy,” which isn’t consistent with design guidelines that call for avoiding “boxy structures with flat wall planes”; it blocks views of hills such as Bishop Peak; and the landscaping doesn’t provide privacy for adjacent properties.

“This appeal is specifically directed to the ARC asking that they pay more adherence to the community design guidelines,” Brodie said in his oral presentation to the council. “We’re speaking as citizens in support of a community document that reflects the values and priorities of the citizenry of San Luis Obispo. We think the project design is a symptom of too much deference to architects and developers with very little regard to the adopted guidelines.”

City staff members, however, reviewed the issue and determined that the project was consistent with the city’s guidelines, including the city’s general plan, zoning code and community design guidelines.

We’re talking about a building next to a Taco Bell. I’m not really sure we want to be matching so much as looking at this as a project on its own. ... It fits into our city economically and environmentally.

Carlyn Christianson, San Luis Obispo councilwoman

Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said the project design meets standards such as the city’s 45-foot height limit ordinance (the building is proposed to be 45 feet tall) and that it’s not a true box with four straight sides, as it contains cutouts, different levels and balconies that give it uneven edges.

“It often comes down to a matter of taste, but I have learned not to question that so much,” Christianson said. “  We’re talking about a building next to a Taco Bell. I’m not really sure we want to be matching so much as looking at this as a project on its own.”

In addition, Christianson said, “it fits into our city economically and environmentally.”

In public comment, Cheryl McLean said the project was too monstrous, will increase traffic on a busy road and could lead to people using the facility as a place to live and not stay temporarily.

But real estate agent Matt Sansone said that visitors, such as parents of Cal Poly students and others, should have a place in the city for extended hotel stays to help their children. He also praised the project’s use of solar energy.

Harmon said she didn’t believe the project was consistent with the appropriate height and mass of neighboring buildings and said she was concerned about the boxiness. However, she appreciated the components of the project’s design that include use of solar energy and “passive cooling” overhangs, designed to cool off the building without depending on air conditioning.

Pease said she felt four stories were acceptable, as was the project’s contemporary, climate-sensitive style. But she said there are a lot of one- and two-story buildings nearby, and she questioned how the scaling would appear to pedestrians on the street. She also wanted a “more inviting” pedestrian access to the facility and noted that adding a balcony or other features in the front might be more appealing.

Councilman Aaron Gomez said he thinks the biggest issue is compatibility, which is a matter of interpretation, and that many historic and beloved buildings in the city have a look that could be considered “boxy” depending on interpretation.

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