Arroyo Grande council shifts gears on plaza

Short Street may be saved after all.

After several hours of public comment and discussion, the Arroyo Grande City Council late Tuesday asked the developer of the proposed Centennial Square project in the Village to rework his plan to preserve the street between East Branch Street and Olohan Alley.

That 113-foot section of Short Street had become the sticking point in a larger proposal that would add a commercial building to the Village, improve and add to the city’s facilities and create a pedestrian plaza.

Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara on Wednesday said he was disappointed, but “we have to be mindful and sensitive to the fact that the community was split on the issue.”

In the city’s proposal presented Tuesday night, San Luis Obispo-based NKT Commercial would sell the city the former Farm Credit building at 300 E. Branch St. in exchange for the Conrad House, the 1950s-era city Building Department office and the parking lot between the buildings.

That building, at 208 E. Branch St., would be restored, and NKT Commercial would construct a 5,700-square-foot commercial building in the area of the current parking lot and 200 E. Branch St.

The city would pay about $1.2 million for the building at 300 E. Branch St., which City Manager Steve Adams said the city proposes to pay for with a low-interest federal loan.

Ferrara said the council directed Nick Tompkins of NKT Commercial to keep Short Street but make it one-way, and look at ways to transform the area by the gazebo and the Swinging Bridge “into some sort of Centennial statement for the city.”

The council also directed city staff to review the alternative plan submitted by Arroyo Grande architect Gary L. Scherquist. Scherquist’s plan would preserve and straighten Short Street and create a Centennial Park area by the gazebo.

Arroyo Grande resident Tim Brown, a city planning commissioner, was among those at the meeting who leaned toward keeping Short Street open.

“I think the city was rushing the project,” he said Wednesday. “I asked (at the meeting) for a two-week cooling off period to look at another point of view, and that’s what they ended up doing.”

Judith Bean, President/CEO of the Arroyo Grande Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday: “I only hope the city can work out something with Nick (Tompkins) before the opportunity is lost. It seemed pretty clear that the prudent choice would be to move forward.”

The proposal will be discussed at the council’s next meeting in two weeks.