Atascadero officials on Tuesday night took the first step toward remaking the downtown area as a pedestrian-friendly gathering place for residents and visitors.
The City Council voted unanimously to require a public hearing process and eliminate existing parking incentives for new ground floor medical and dental offices in the area around the Sunken Gardens. In addition, ground floor residential uses would be prohibited.
The Planning Commission approved the measure at a January meeting.
Downtown Atascadero has historically been a hub for these offices. But city planners want to change this trend, as such spaces don’t draw foot traffic or provide places for residents and visitors to spend time on weekends or after business hours.
“This is a good first step,” Councilwoman Heather Moreno said.
The code changes wouldn’t require the doctors, dentists and psychologists who currently own or rent spaces downtown to move. They’re allowed to remain in their offices indefinitely, unless they want to reconstruct their buildings or move into a structure that’s not currently used for that purpose.
Moreno and Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi suggested the council could revisit the issue in a year to consider additional measures.
Medical professionals didn’t oppose the change, but spoke about how their practices have been positive assets to the city.
“We’re part of the community,” said Dr. Brack Linscott, who owns a dental office on West Mall. “We’re good guys.”
Several residents and business owners spoke in support of the changes, with some saying officials should do more to encourage the medical offices to move away from the downtown area.
“The challenge with the zoning ordinance is it’s all stick and no carrot,” said Susan Funk of the Kailos Group, a healthcare business consulting firm.
Annie Weyrich, assistant manager of the Carlton Hotel, said it’s clear residents want restaurants and shopping downtown, not medical offices.
“We know what the community wants, we know what Atascadero wants,” she said. “And that’s a strong downtown.”