Arroyo Grande council OKs building swap

Arroyo Grande’s controversial project to add city facilities and commercial space to the historic Village will move ahead.

The City Council voted 3-2 on Monday night to continue its plan to purchase the former Farm Credit building at 300 E. Branch St., move its 27 full- and part-time staff working in the city buildings in the Village into that property and lease the current City Hall building at 214 E. Branch St.

Councilmen Ed Arnold and Chuck Fellows opposed the plan.

Developer Nick Tompkins of NKT Commercial also agreed to buy the property back from the city for $2.1 million if, in two to six years, the building doesn’t fit the city’s needs.

“It is not now, nor ever was, our family’s intention to do anything to harm the Village,” he told the council.

Under the plan, the city will sell NKT Commercial two buildings: the Conrad House, which houses the city’s Public Works Department, and the former “malt shop,” a 1950s-era building now home to the city’s Building and Life Services Division. The city will also sell the parking lot in between.

The Conrad House would be restored, and NKT Commercial would construct a 5,700-square-foot commercial building in the area of the parking lot and 200 E. Branch St.

Officials say the plan would be more cost effective in the long term than having to repair and upgrade current city facilities.

The project will cost the city about $1.2 million, which is proposed to be funded through a federal loan at an annual cost of $78,000 for 30 years. Of that, $58,000 would come from local sales tax revenues, and the rest from water and sewer funds.

More than 50 people attended Monday’s special meeting, where most of those who spoke about the project were opposed to it for reasons including the cost, the loss of parking off East Branch Street, the demolition of the malt shop and other issues.

On Monday, 16 people voiced concerns about the project, while four spoke in favor of moving ahead.

“It seems to me that the city should take a hard look at the 10,000-square-foot building on Station Way,” said Ira Hughes, owner of Ira’s Bike Shop in the Village, referring to one of the buildings available for lease in the city. Hughes and several other speakers urged the council to consider options other than the Farm Credit building.

Others urged the council to leave the Village alone.

“Our village is so wonderful. … It doesn’t need another park or historic place,” resident Lynn Titus said. “Can’t the City Hall project be done without redoing the Village?”

Meanwhile, Greg Moore of Village business Willis & Bennett spoke in support of the project.

“If you look at the total package, I honestly believe it’s in the best interest of the community,” he said.

Greg Steinberger, owner of Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in the Village, added: “It seems like a lot of resistance is really about change in general. … Not changing makes us irrelevant.”