Paso wants Smith Volvo elsewhere

Paso Robles wants to attract businesses, but not at the expense of plans to revitalize key areas of the city.

Earlier this week, the City Council denied an appeal from San Luis Obispo-based Smith Volvo to set up a used car sale operation at the former Hometown Nursery at Spring and Second streets. Instead, the City Council urged Smith to consider the now-closed Jerry Reneau Chrysler Dodge car lot further north at 2235 Spring St.

It couldn’t be learned Friday if Smith plans to look for another spot in Paso Robles.

Smith said Smith Volvo expects its annual sales in Paso Robles to be in the $15 million range, giving the city a needed boost in sales tax.

But community leaders want to uphold a new vision for the city.

The council earlier this year adopted a new set of zoning codes to reshape Paso Robles’ west side by making it more walkable, with various pockets of mixed-use businesses, homes and open space.

“I really want to see the business come to town but we have to be consistent with the plan we just adopted,” Mayor Pro Tem Fred Strong said.

The council vote was 4 to 1, with Mayor Duane Picanco dissenting. Councilman Nick Gilman also gave a long pause before ultimately agreeing to deny the appeal by applicant Ian Smith.

“I’m a little unhappy to see it sit vacant when it could be economically productive,” Gilman said of the proposed lot at 201 Spring St.

The nursery lot, which includes a 5,000-square-foot storefront, is zoned for commercial but not for auto sales.

The Spring Street corridor is one of the key areas slated for revitalization. Planners want to continue its transition away from attracting gas stations, motels and car sales — businesses popular from 1930 to 1950 when Spring Street was Highway 101.

The council’s vote supports the Paso Robles Planning Commission’s decision in May to deny Smith’s application for the 1-acre lot.

The commission said used car sales would be detrimental to Spring Street’s revitalization.

But Smith said in a letter to the city after the commission’s denial that pedestrians like to look at cars and that the used lot would be for attractive, luxury vehicles.

On Tuesday, Smith said he understands the city’s concern that tourists’ first look at Paso Robles upon exiting Highway 101 should be nice. He pledged to make the lot attractive.

Hometown Nursery has been vacant since fall 2010. The 34-year old nursery and home goods store closed after several years of declining sales and expanding from its longtime location further north on Spring Street.