Arroyo Grande City Council rejects initial proposal for Food 4 Less project

Arroyo Grande council members voted 3-1 late Tuesday to deny one step in the process on a proposed project that included the construction of a Food 4 Less grocery store.

The council did not support amending its specific plan guiding development in the area of the proposal to allow a larger building and less parking on the property at East Grand Avenue and South Courtland Street.

Councilman Jim Guthrie dissented; Mayor Tony Ferrara has to recuse himself because he lives too close to the proposal to vote for it.

Nick 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.

A separate project would allow People’s Self-Help Housing Corp. to build 36 below-market-rate apartments on the remaining 1.63 acres.

The council had three public hearings scheduled Tuesday: one to amend the area’s specific plan, another to consider Tompkins’ proposal and a third on the residential housing.

Council members only made it through the first hearing; the other two were continued to future meeting.

The council heard comments from about 30 people, including Arroyo Grande residents and local grocery store owners and employees.

The vast majority were against building a Food 4 Less store; however, the council also received more than a dozen e-mails and letters in support.

John Spencer, owner of Spencer’s Fresh Markets, which has a store diagonally across the street from the proposed Food 4 Less, presented the council with a petition he said was signed by 3,500 people against the project.

Meanwhile, a phone survey commissioned by the developer showed that of those who have an opinion on the project, 65 percent supported it, while 35 percent opposed it.

Councilman Chuck Fellows took issue with the way the Food 4 Less grocery store was portrayed in the survey, saying the phrasing would make the store sound “pretty darn good” to someone answering the survey. (It can be viewed by clicking here.)

The council directed staff to send two items back to its Planning Commission, including the specific plan, so commissioners can address concerns including parking, the maximum building size allowed and the buffer area between the commercial and residential areas.

The council would also have to adopt findings that the project would have no effect on the environment. Council members sent this resolution back to the Planning Commission to deal with its concerns on traffic.