Arroyo Grande redevelopment goes to next step

Arroyo Grande planning commissioners gave their go-ahead Tuesday to final design plans on a project that would demolish one city building and add more than 5,000 square feet of new commercial space to the downtown area.

The City Council must still approve final design review of the architectural, site, floor and landscaping plans for developer Nick Tompkins of NKT Commercial to proceed on the project, which includes construction of a 5,802-square-foot commercial building at East Branch and Short streets in the historic Village.

That building, referred to as The Shops at Short Street, could include up to eight tenants or owners and may include some outdoor dining.

Planning commissioners voted 3-0 to recommend approval of the project. Commissioners John Keen and Kristen Barneich were absent.

The project has been hotly debated in town, with supporters saying the change gives the city a new opportunity to attract business and tourists.

Opponents, meanwhile, were concerned about the project’s cost, the loss of parking off East Branch Street and the demolition of the 1950s building, known to some as the “malt shop,” at 200 E. Branch St.

Concerns Tuesday night included the loss of one additional parking space — the project would now include six spaces — the size and the number of storefronts, which may not equal the number of businesses inside.

“This project to me is too massive,” longtime resident Manetta Bennett said. “It looks like the project down at the west end with some trim,” she added, referring to the development at the entrance to the Village, which was not well-received by local residents.

“I think this is a too-important project for our village to not do it right,” said Arroyo Grande architect Gary L. Scherquist, who said he supported the project, though he had concerns with the design.

The council on Feb. 23 approved a purchase and sale agreement to buy the former Farm Credit building at 300 E. Branch St. from Tompkins in exchange for the Conrad House, which houses the city’s Engineering Division and the malt shop, a 1950s-era building home to the city’s Building and Neighborhood Services divisions. City staff estimated the cost at $1.2 million.

The council voted 3-2 in late March to move the project ahead.

As part of Tompkins’ plan, the Conrad House, at 208 E. Branch St., would be upgraded and available for retail or office use.

If approved, the property exchange would close escrow once the city issues Tompkins building permits, City Manager Steve Adams said.

Then, the city’s 27 full- and part-time staff working in city buildings will move into the Farm Credit building. City officials plan to lease the current city hall building at 214 E. Branch St.

Adams said the council will discuss this month whether to phase city employees’ move into the new building and discuss the cost of making some upgrades to that space. Officials earlier this year said improvements could cost about $410,000.

“We’re going to have to move people in and make improvements while people are there,” Adams said.Arroyo Grande officials also hope to construct a park in the area to mark the city’s centennial next July. Adams said the council will likely discuss that plan later this month.