Roughly a month after the historic Alex Bar-B-Q building in Shell Beach was suddenly demolished, Pismo Beach officials met this week to debate one big question: What happens next?
The answer? Shell Beach could still get the restaurant it had planned for — minus the original building, of course.
“If the community wishes to have a restaurant there, we want to have a restaurant there,” Compass Health CEO Darren Smith said at a Pismo Beach Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night. (Compass Health owns the property on Shell Beach Road.)
“If we can find a way to work through it and continue down the path of providing a restaurant location that can bring back the fondness of what Alex Bar-B-Q has meant to the community over the decades — that’s what we are interested in doing,” he said.
The Planning Commission on Tuesday night was expected to revoke Compass Health’s permit for a restaurant renovation at the site — the renovation that ultimately led to the building being torn down under uncertain circumstances in September.
City staff recommended taking away the local health and restaurant company’s permits for construction because the renovation project as proposed could no longer go ahead as planned without a building to renovate. They recommended asking Compass Health to return with a new proposal.
“We have a permit for a project that no longer fits on the property within the current realm of regulations, so what we are saying is they need to start over,” community development director Jeff Winklepleck said.
In a turnaround, the Planning Commission instead voted to continue the issue to a future meeting to give time for the city and Compass Health to hash out how the company could build the restaurant they had planned for the site.
“Personally I want to see something like what we were promised there,” Commissioner Tarren Collins said. “When I understood that what the owners of the property want to do is put Alex’s back there, as best they can, it gave me great relief.”
She added that revoking the permit would open the door for other sorts of commercial projects in that space that wouldn’t have to recognize the property’s history.
“What we want to see is that gathering spot as true to the form of Alex’s that’s been promised by the developer,” she said.
Smith said Compass Health intends to construct some sort of monument or memorial to the original Alex’s as well as use materials from the original building in the new restaurant. He added the company would also be interested in participating in a historic preservation program.
Planning commissioners did address the elephant in the room Tuesday night: How can they avoid another situation like the one that led to the building’s demolition?
“We appreciate that things went farther than they were approved to go,” Smith said of the building’s demolition. “We’re not looking to blame anyone for anything. We understand that this is our responsibility. This project is our responsibility.”
Smith said Compass Health would be a more active participant in future construction and would have daily check-ins with the contractor to ensure no miscommunication.
Though the historic building is now gone, Shell Beach residents were adamant Tuesday night that they still wanted a restaurant in the location — and soon.
“I’ve been looking at a very unsightly green fence for years now, and I was so excited to hear that it was going to move forward and we were going to have a nice restaurant,” resident Marion Molhook said. “And then we have this debris now that’s sitting there. So I am begging — I am begging you — time is of the essence on this. We have looked at this far too long. It’s our home, and we shouldn’t be looking at the rubble.”
Planning commissioners did not specify when the discussion is expected to return to the commission.