SLO Planning Commission reviews Motel Inn development plan

The Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo.
The Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A plan to redevelop the historic Motel Inn property in San Luis Obispo is moving forward.

The San Luis Obispo Planning Commission gave mostly favorable feedback on the proposal Wednesday to resurrect the inn on the north end of Monterey Street — an icon famous for reportedly being the first overnight stop to use the term “motel.”

The commission only discussed the project Wednesday; the plans will come back for final action at a future meeting.

The new inn, estimated to be about 28,000 square feet, would be a boutique hotel similar in size and scale to the Avila Village Inn near the Bob Jones Trail in Avila Beach, developer Rob Rossi said in an interview with The Tribune last week.

He and John King bought the property in 2001 and are redeveloping it with CoVelop Inc., a local development company started by two Cal Poly graduates.

Originally known as the Milestone Motel Inn, the site was developed in 1925 when Monterey Street was the highway. It is on the city’s master list of historic resources.

Many of the motel units and accessory buildings were demolished due to excessive deterioration, according to the city, but the original lobby and a portion of the wall of the original restaurant remains.

Pasadena developer Arthur S. Heineman, who coined the “motel” name, opened the Spanish/Mission Revival-style inn on Dec. 12, 1925, as part of a plan for a string of such inns from San Diego to Seattle, according to past Tribune reports.

Each inn would be a day’s car ride apart — just as the Spanish missions were laid out a day’s march from one another. But Heineman’s plan ended when The Great Depression began four years later.

“Rooms were $1.25 a night in this little motel in San Luis Obispo,” San Luis Obispo senior planner Phil Dunsmore said Wednesday.

The remaining parts of the motel would be integrated into the project, which includes 52 guest rooms in one- and two-story buildings, a restaurant, pool and garden areas.

Parking for up to 25 recreational vehicles is also proposed on the east half of the site between San Luis Creek and Highway 101. Ten of the RV spots could accommodate Airstream trailers that would stay on site for overnight guests.

“I think it’s really nice to have both types of lodging available for people," said commissioner Ronald Malak, who jokingly offered to serve as camp host.

The project came to the city’s Planning Commission for a conceptual review because the property falls within a “special considerations” zone along with other properties on the southeast side of Monterey Street next to the creek.

Much of the project complies with design criteria for the area, but city planners were concerned that the location of the RV park conflicts with the requirement that parking and “active recreation” uses should be on the interior of the site.

Because the RV sites would act as camp sites, they could be considered an outdoor active use, according to Dunsmore’s staff report. But those concerns could be lessened with some screening to block light and noise from traveling across the creek.

Rossi said he planned to install screening around the RV area.

Resident Stephen Hansen, who lives in the San Luis Drive neighborhood on the other side of the creek, suggested the area needs a big fence and no-trespassing signs.

“If my two grandsons came to camp, they would immediately head down to the creek,” said Hansen, who also raised concerns about the impact to wildlife in the creek area and the availability of water for future developments.

Several commissions recommended that special attention be paid to shielding the noise caused by visitors.

“As much as you’d like to have people sit around the picnic table and be quiet, not all of them will all the time,” commissioner Michael Multari said.

The new plan still needs review by the city’s Cultural Heritage Committee and the Architectural Review Commission before it returns to the Planning Commission for final action.

Rossi said in a previous interview he didn’t yet know how much the project would cost, although he expects the total to exceed $10 million.

A very similar project, larger in scale and without the RV site, was approved in 2003, but construction permits were not pursued.

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