Opponents of Garden Street Terraces project out in force

UPDATE: Garden Street Terraces project is approved »

San Luis Obispo City Council members discussed the proposed Garden Street Terraces project long into the night Tuesday as they deliberated on the final approval needed for the large project.

The council did not reach a decision by press time.

More than 75 community members packed the council chambers Tuesday night and spent hours conveying concerns about the shades of gray and white proposed for the exterior buildings and of the design of the project’s anchor building at Marsh and Broad streets.

The large hotel, which will include residential and retail space, is slated for the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo and will likely begin construction within the next two years.

Many community members wore orange paper badges with the slogan “Save Our Downtown” pinned to their shirts.

A group of citizens that seeks to preserve the downtown has vocally criticized the project’s gateway building at Marsh and Broad streets.

Dozens of speakers agreed Tuesday.

“It’s like a dingy smile — not inviting — even cold,” said Russ Brown, of the building.

A handful of people spoke in favor of the project, including Deborah Cash of the Downtown Association who said the organization’s board of directors supported it.

Hamish Marshall, vice president of WestPac Investments, stood by the project despite the criticism.

“We are committed to this design — it is a good design and it will be good for this community,” Marshall said.

The 1.1-acre site is bordered by Broad Street, Garden Alley and Garden and Marsh streets. The project has gone through multiple revisions and 12 public hearings since it was submitted to the city for consideration in 2006.

The project would include a 99-year lease of the city parking lot at 736 Marsh St., which will be developed as part of the project.

Under the deal, the city agreed to give the developer a one-time loan of up to $2.4 million from the city’s parking fund, and the developer agreed to pay base rent annually to the city for the parking site. The developer also agreed to make a onetime payment of $1.86 million for the loss of public parking spaces.

In June 2010, the City Council certified the environmental impact report and asked the developer to return at a later date for approval of the project design.

The project has since been through multiple revisions and closely scrutinized by the city’s advisory bodies charged with reviewing proposed developments.

Critics voiced concerns about the height of the project in its early stages and about the retention of historic buildings.

The project was modified to retain the existing buildings on Garden Street — keeping the facades intact of the historic buildings such as the Smith building, the Laird building and San Luis Traditions on Marsh Street.

As part of the redesign, the height of the development was reduced to 50 feet and the scope of the project was also reduced along with several cosmetic tweaks.

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