Issue taken with plan’s scale, size of proposed Food 4 Less in Arroyo Grande

Unlike many of the South County residents who spoke against a Food 4 Less project Tuesday night, Arroyo Grande City Council members did not focus much on the type of grocery store proposed for one “gateway” area of the city.

Instead, they took issue with the proposed project’s deviations from development standards set for the area at East Grand Avenue and South Courtland Street, including fewer parking spaces and a larger building than would normally be allowed.

“A grocery store is an allowed use in that district,” Councilman Joe Costello said. “The issue for me is going to be the size and scale of that building.”

Council members voted 3-1 to deny one step in the process: amending the specific plan guiding development in the area.

Nick Tompkins of NKT Commercial seeks to build a restaurant, a commercial building and a 50,881-square-foot Food 4 Less grocery store on a 4.5-acre site.

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 will take place at a future meeting.

Mayor Tony Ferrara had to recuse himself because he lives too close to the proposal to vote for it.

Councilman Jim Guthrie dissented Tuesday, saying he was “not quite convinced” that the plan for the area precludes a large building. Guthrie said the addition of another shopping opportunity might outweigh the project’s negative aspects.

“This is the commercial center of our small town, if you will,” he said. “It’s key to have services in our commercial core.”

Along with Costello, council members Caren Ray and Chuck Fellows said the building is too large for that spot.

“I don’t have any problem (with) Food 4 Less,” Ray said. “My issue is whatever we build here is going to be here in perpetuity.”

The council heard comments from about 30 people, the vast majority of whom were opposed to the store. Some said they’re worried about the grocery store’s impact on other local stores.

However, the council also received more than a dozen e-mails and letters in support.

“I’d love to have a larger local choice of shopping without driving to San Luis Obispo,” said Denise Andreini, owner of Café Andreini in the Village.

She noted that the community can and does support local stores, including her cafe, as well as big stores such as Wal-Mart and the new In-N-Out restaurant.

John Spencer, owner of Spencer’s Fresh Market, 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.

“We are over-stored in the Five Cities area,” he said.

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.

Fellows took issue with the way the grocery store was portrayed in the survey, saying the phrasing would make the store sound “pretty darn good” to someone answering the survey.

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

Find out more

To view the Food 4 Less proposal and the results of the telephone survey, go to www.arroyogrande.org/agenda-archives/city-council and select the Nov. 9 meeting.

The survey is supplemental item No. 6.