Garden Terraces in downtown SLO nearing final OK

Garden Street Terraces — a large hotel, residential, retail and commercial development slated for downtown San Luis Obispo, is nearing final approval.

The city’s Architectural Review Commission will make its last design recommendations on the 1.1-acre project Monday. The project will then be forwarded to the City Council in mid-October for final design approval.

A substantial redesign of the project — prompted by concerns raised by the council and the community over the project’s size and preservation of historic resources in existing buildings — was submitted to the city earlier this year.

On Monday, the public will get to weigh in on details such as building materials, colors and textures.

One critic of the project, San Luis Obispo resident Sara McEre, said she is concerned that the project does not reflect the feel of the buildings downtown.

McEre said she would like the developer to incorporate lighter and warmer colors than the proposed charcoal. She also wants to see decorative tiles, recessed doorways, cornices along the buildings’ upper edges and an inclusion of public art along the alleyways.

“This project is going to be a gateway of sorts for the downtown at Marsh and Broad streets, and it should preserve the look and feel of what is there now,” said McEre, a member of Save Our Downtown, a small citizens group that seeks to preserve the downtown.

Some of those suggestions are being considered by local architect George Garcia — including adding a more pedestrian-friendly feel to Garden Alley by adding recessed wall areas for plants and recycled public art installations.

The project will also incorporate lighter brick elements, and alternate patterns, blends and mortar color to soften the hue of the building’s gray facade. In addition, a white dove-colored plaster will replace the dark gray brick originally intended for the building facing Broad and Marsh streets.

Planners of the project say that it is not meant to mimic surrounding buildings, but its design is meant to complement them.

“Imagine a downtown where each building looked like the next, where we could not distinguish when a particular building was built because there was no contrast from one structure to the other,” said Carol Florence, a principal planner for Oasis Associates, in an email. “We should be demanding diversity in our architecture, just as we expect it in our society. That is what makes us collectively unique.”

As part of that Garden Street Terraces redesign, the height of the entire development, proposed for the stretch of Marsh Street from Broad to Garden streets, was reduced to 50 feet or less from up to 74 feet in the previous version of the plan.

The scope of the project, being developed by WestPac, was also reduced to 125,000 square feet from 212,000 square feet — reducing the number of hotel rooms to 48, compared to 95 in the initial plan, and eight residential units, down from 34 in the previous version.

It also retains the existing buildings on Garden Street such as Downtown Brew and the facades of other historic buildings such as the Smith building and the Laird building.

Florence, who could not provide an estimated cost of the project, said construction is expected to begin in 2012.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.