Dozens join debate on Arroyo Grande Food 4 Less

Before a packed house late Tuesday, developer Nick Tompkins tried to convince Arroyo Grande City Council members that a proposed Food 4 Less grocery store would meet a need in the South County and is not intended to harm nearby grocers.

Tompkins, of NKT Commercial, seeks to add a restaurant, a commercial building and a 50,881-square-foot Food 4 Less grocery store to a 4.5-acre site at East Grand Avenue and South Courtland Street.

The store would be beneficial “for the local Five Cites and Nipomo families ... who are managing a very tight budget” and bring shopping dollars to the East Grand Avenue area, he said.

A separate project would allow People’s Self-Help Housing Corp. to build 36 below-market-rate apartments.

Mayor Tony Ferrara recused himself, as he lives too close to the proposed project to vote on it.

At press time, about three dozen people were set to speak on the issue. Supporters said the overall project would bring in local revenue and give consumers a choice of where to shop.

City officials estimate the entire project will generate $100,000 in sales tax revenue — though $30,000 to $40,000 of that could be revenue lost from other stores. It could also bring in $25,000 a year in property tax revenue and $36,000 a year to the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

Opponents are concerned the project would harm existing grocery stores and increase traffic. They worry it’s too close to the proposed residential units.

Planning commissioners were also concerned about the size of the Food 4 Less store and its inconsistency with development standards such as having an adequate number of parking spaces.

On Tuesday, the public heard the results of a phone survey commissioned by Tompkins of 400 Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano and Nipomo residents to determine how the Food 4 Less would affect their shopping habits.

The survey by San Luis Obispo-based Opinion Studies found that of those who have an opinion on the project, 65 percent supported it, while 35 percent opposed it.

It also found that, of the grocery stores in Arroyo Grande, Cookie Crock may stand to lose the most business. Other stores, including FoodMaxx, Costco and Von’s, could also lose shoppers to Food 4 Less.

Tompkins owns the shopping center that includes the Cookie Crock Warehouse on East Grand Avenue, a few blocks east of the proposed store.

“If we’re out of there, then he could bulldoze the whole thing and do another development there,” said Cookie Crock owner Del Clegg, adding that the project does not meet the city’s development guidelines.

Tompkins said there are no plans to redevelop that property — though he would like to improve it —and that other businesses located there have long-term leases.

“If you’re a landlord, you want that tenant to succeed,” Tompkins said, “but it’s not a guarantee that you would never lease to another similar type of business.”

Spencer’s Fresh Market sits diagonally across the street from the Food 4 Less project site, and a Von’s is located in Grover Beach a few blocks west.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.