South Broad Street's future to be discussed again by SLO City Council

A plan to change the zoning and improve South Broad Street has some manufacturing business concerned that they will eventually become obsolete. This photograph is on Broad Street at Francis Avenue looking north toward South Street.
A plan to change the zoning and improve South Broad Street has some manufacturing business concerned that they will eventually become obsolete. This photograph is on Broad Street at Francis Avenue looking north toward South Street. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo City Council, struggling to reach a consensus Tuesday night, voted 3-1 to postpone making a decision about the future of the South Broad Street Area Plan until later this month.

The council is being asked to include the plan in the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element update for additional study.

Council members took heed of hours of impassioned public comment from land and business owners in the area, leading the council to ask staff to formulate a better plan to protect manufacturers’ business interests. 

“I’m normally a big fan of good long-term planning, but every once in awhile something happens that trumps that planning,” said Councilman Dan Carpenter, the sole dissenting vote. “It is a very neat, eclectic and successful area that has morphed into its own without us touching it. ... Sometimes we just have to back away and leave it alone.”

The South Broad Street Area Plan, once implemented, would define how future development would occur in the 140-acre neighborhood midway between downtown and the airport.

The plan includes the area of Broad Street that is bounded by Santa Barbara Street, the railroad tracks, South Street and Orcutt Road.

Carpenter said he would like the plan to address improvements only on Broad Street.

The plan attempts to restore a neighborhood feel that once defined the area while incorporating new businesses and office space, eventually making the area an extension of the downtown.

However, the plan, as it was presented to the council Tuesday, eliminated future heavy manufacturing and industrial businesses that have long been rooted in the area, instead pushing that type of business closer to the airport.

Ernest Barncastle, of Taylor Rental Party Plus on Broad Street, said the proposed rezoning would make many business owners question their future in the city.

“The net effect of this is that we are on track to lose jobs,” Barncastle said. “It will happen; it is inevitable.”

Existing businesses would be allowed to stay indefinitely, but many business owners said the change would create incompatible land uses and cast a cloud of uncertainty over their businesses’ future.

“While our clients appreciate the city’s desire to create a new gateway along Broad Street, the city should not embrace a flawed plan at the cost of marginalizing those citizens whose businesses, incomes, and livelihoods will be directly and negatively impacted,” wrote Graham Lyons, a Santa Barbara attorney representing some of the affected property and business owners. “The plan basically deletes the zoning designation that has allowed the majority of businesses in the Broad Street area to operate for decades.”

City planners estimate about 70 percent of existing businesses on land currently zoned for manufacturing would be accepted under the proposed changes. However, the remaining 30 percent would no longer be compatible.

In a letter dated Monday, Lyons asked the City Council to consider directing staff to revise the area plan to create an overlay or hybrid zone to prevent existing manufacturing businesses from becoming nonconforming.

The area was originally subdivided in the 1880s. It is known in San Luis Obispo history as the Imperial Addition, because many of the streets were named for world leaders in the late 19th century. The area is also known as Little Italy. It was settled mainly by railroad workers who lived in small, simple houses. Industrial and light manufacturing eventually replaced many of those neighborhoods.

The area plan describes the South Broad Street area as a “neighborhood in transition” because of its mixture of land uses and varying architectural designs.

That plan aims to eventually incorporate about 425 new homes and an additional 880,000 square feet of commercial space, and transform Victoria Avenue into a “Main Street” environment with shops and homes.

Aesthetic improvements to Broad Street, such as an eventual median and improved pedestrian access from the west and east sides of the road, are also envisioned.

However, those enhancements are a long way off. A full implementation of the plan including connecting streets, putting utilities underground, installing bikeways and upgrading Victoria Avenue would cost an estimated $23 million. The Broad Street median would cost more than $1.7 million alone.

The council will consider the plan again at its next meeting March 19. Staff are to include more options to protect businesses in the area.

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