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Proposed 75-foot-tall building in downtown SLO is too bulky looking, commission says

A rendering of the proposed 1144 Chorro St. project shows how the building might look in a view from the corner of Marsh and Chorro streets.
A rendering of the proposed 1144 Chorro St. project shows how the building might look in a view from the corner of Marsh and Chorro streets.

The conceptual design for a proposed six-story building in downtown San Luis Obispo is too massive and bulky, and it should be scaled back by layered indenting the facade inward on the upper floors, the city’s Architectural Review Commission says.

The latest design for the commercial space at the corner of Marsh and Chorro streets calls for a mixed-use building that reaches 75 feet tall.

While the Architectural Review Commission generally commented on the bulk of the building’s design at a Monday meeting, it didn’t weigh in specifically on the height or six stories, which could be reviewed in more depth in future planning meetings.

The ARC’s role wasn’t to take formal action but to offer guidance to applicants on conforming to city standards at the conceptual stage, city officials said.

From a public perspective, the city received 25 letters and heard from seven people in public comment — all of them opposed to the idea of a 75-foot building.

“A 75-foot building anywhere in our city, but especially in our downtown, will be the beginning of the end for what makes our town so special,” Debbie Anthony wrote in an email to the city. “If one project of that scope is allowed, how will we ever be able to stop the upward growth?”

In another public letter, resident Jon Olsen wrote that the nearby, soon-to-be-opened Hotel Serra at Marsh and Garden, already looks “more imposing and fits in less as it nears completion.”

“Please don’t continue this trend,” Olsen said. “You will ruin the intimate, inviting feeling of downtown SLO that so many people enjoy, exchanging it for being Any Town USA.”

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A view of the proposed 1144 Chorro St. project from the Downtown Centre in San Luis Obispo. Ten Over Studio

The 1144 Chorro site was previously approved for a three-story downtown bowling alley, game room, concert hall, restaurant and bar.

But the project was abandoned after a contentious business relationship ended between the building’s owner, Jamestown Premier SLO Retail, and the group planning to develop and run the center, Discovery SLO.

The groups settled a lawsuit over allegations of missed rent payments and parted ways after a prolonged back-and-forth over seismic upgrades that also delayed plans for construction, according to past Tribune coverage.

Now Jamestown, an international company with more than $10 billion in assets, is moving forward with its concept of ground floor retail and parking, two stories of office space (second and third floors), and three stories of residential dwellings (fourth, fifth and sixth floors).

The proposal includes 55 apartments, 80 percent of which would be under 600 square feet to be “affordable by design,” Jamestown wrote in its project description.

At the Monday meeting, members of the Architectural Review Commission gave feedback that the preliminary design concept is “too institutional and monotonous,” and suggested ways to make it better fit the city’s Community Design Guidelines, said Doug Davidson, the city’s deputy director of community development.

To address the massive design look, the ARC suggested varying the plane by offsetting the upper floors, indenting the building wall to break up a more vertically planed look, according to Davidson.

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A rendering shows the comparison of elevations between a proposed mixed-use project at 1144 Chorro St. in San Luis Obispo and neighboring buildings. Ten Over Studio

“The ARC also would like to activate the corner with more lively space for pedestrians,” Davidson said. “That could mean setting the building back from the street to create space. It could be an outdoor patio area for dining, or something to that effect.”

Jamestown’s existing design calls for brick that extends from the street level to the third and fourth stories, with the upper floors consisting of stucco siding that are stepped back five feet from the brick facade, according to a city staff report.

The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission, the ARC, Planning Commission and City Council all are expected to hold future meetings on the proposal, after a formal application is presented, Davidson said.

“The ARC’s role wasn’t to take any formal action, and this is just at the conceptual review stage,” Davidson said. “This meeting was just for the public and the commission to provide early feedback.”

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