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SLO building looks like a ‘giant rock’ and needs a softer color scheme, council says

Is this new building in downtown SLO ‘hideous’?

A controversial, dark gray three-story building in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo must get a new paint job, the City Council decided Tuesday, October 3, 2017. Some people said they liked the project’s charcoal gray facade at Santa Rosa and
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A controversial, dark gray three-story building in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo must get a new paint job, the City Council decided Tuesday, October 3, 2017. Some people said they liked the project’s charcoal gray facade at Santa Rosa and

A controversial, dark gray three-story building in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo must alter its color scheme to a two-tone shade, the City Council decided Tuesday.

The council heard from public supporters who appreciated the project’s charcoal gray facade at the corner of Santa Rosa and Marsh streets. And they heard from a speaker who called it “hideous.”

Voting 4-0, the council directed the developer of the commercial property at 1135 Santa Rosa St., 33 Tons, LLC, to work with the city’s Architectural Review Commission (ARC) to fix the exterior color scheme on the balcony side so it’s more in line with design guidelines. Council member Aaron Gomez recused himself because of his business’ ongoing dealings with the developer.

The two-color look will lighten the building’s overall tone to avoid a “heavier,” “monotonous,” and “massive” look — in keeping with community design guidelines.

“It’s a big, massive building,” said Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson. “And to paint it one dark color makes it look like a big, giant rock sitting there.”

building design
A rendering for the building shows it with a two-tone tan color scheme. City of SLO

Christianson added “I don’t think this follows our community design guidelines. I don’t like it.”

Councilwoman Andy Pease said the base gray color could remain. “Solutions could include painting some elements — such as the balconies — a different color, adding a change in texture, or some other strategy,” she said.

Pease, who’s also an architect, added that it’s a “beautiful building” with “great architecture” that’s really close to meeting city approval conditions.

Property owner Ben Kulick, of Stalwork Inc., was issued a notice of violation of project approval conditions in May, according to a city staff report.

In July, the ARC then denied Stalwork’s request for modification of colors to keep the applied single shade of gray, a decision later appealed to the City Council.

Kulick said the city’s planning process was “confusing” but that his group complied with city design policy.

“We picked things that we’re entitled to do within the guidelines,” Kulick said.

It’s a big massive building. And to paint it one dark color makes it look like a big giant rock sitting there.

Carlyn Christianson, SLO City Council

But approval called for “two complementary shades of gray as the primary building colors: a lighter shade called ‘Oyster Haze’ and a darker shade named ‘City Loft,’” to articulate its features and lessen its massive appearance, a city staff report stated.

“The project was instead completed using a single color, a darker shade of gray described as “Custom Merlex Blend,” the city’s report continued.

The building’s exterior consists of a smooth, troweled plaster, Kulick said, and adjusting the facade color wouldn’t necessarily require painting, but instead a material that provides a different color scheme.

Mayor Heidi Harmon expressed concern about the implications and precedent of overlooking the ARC’s approval conditions.

“If we say the ARC made a decision and there were conditions of approval and these folks did something different, and now we’re saying, ‘Sure, it turned out great,” Harmon said, “it’s a precedent that has bigger implications than just what we’re deciding here tonight.”

Council members said the project is an overall improvement, however, to a site where a two-story building that was originally constructed in 1982 as a bank branch. The new third floor added two residential units on the top level.

Clarification: This story has been adjusted to clarify the City Council’s direction on the color scheme options for the building.

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