New issue raised over A.G. Centennial Square project

A new issue arose Tuesday over Arroyo Grande’s plan to add commercial development, increase city facilities and create an area near the gazebo to recognize the city’s centennial in 2011.

Some call it the “malt shop.” Others remember the small building at 200 E. Branch St. as a barbershop, a beauty shop and a legal office. Under the plan, the building would be demolished.

The 850-square-foot building housing the city’s Building and Life Safety Division became a logjam in a revised proposal for Centennial Square debated Tuesday night before the Arroyo Grande City Council. The council had not voted on the project by 11:30 p.m.

More than 20 people pinned hot pink squares of paper to their shirts that read, “Save the Old Malt Shop.”

“I had some banana splits there in 1962 and ’63,” said Shirley Gibson, a member of the city’s Historical Resources Committee, which had recommended the building be designated a local historical resource.

The City Council voted against it last summer.

But not all felt that way. Pete Giambalvo, who has lived in the area for more than 50 years, said the building’s poor condition makes it a liability to the city.

“I’d like to see this move ahead,” he said of the project. “It will be a major improvement to the Village.”

Two weeks ago, closure of the 113-foot section of Short Street had prompted dozens of community members to request city officials change their plan for a community plaza and preserve the street.

The revised proposal would make Short Street a one-way route from East Branch Avenue to Olohan Alley. The street would be realigned to provide space for outdoor dining.

Henry Gonzalez, who owns the Arroyo Grande Meat Co., is still concerned that the changes to Short Street and the area will affect his business at 120 E. Branch St.

“You’re trying to change us, and we don’t want to change,” he said.

Mayor Tony Ferrara appeared frustrated at the response to the project, especially to the opposition raised over the past several weeks.

“I have no desire to reopen the decision that we made regarding” the malt shop, he said. “It’s time to move forward and not go back.”

Other components of the plan remain unchanged: 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.

The Conrad House 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.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929.