Hotel, homes part of new plan for ‘gateway’ to downtown SLO

A birds-eye view of a new mixed-use project proposed at Santa Rosa and Monterey streets in San Luis Obispo. Pictured is the proposed paseo, which provides a common public space and pedestrian corridor that is a central component of the project.
A birds-eye view of a new mixed-use project proposed at Santa Rosa and Monterey streets in San Luis Obispo. Pictured is the proposed paseo, which provides a common public space and pedestrian corridor that is a central component of the project. RRM Design Group

Developer Nick Tompkins already has approval from the city of San Luis Obispo to build two new 5,000-square-foot commercial buildings at 1101 Monterey St., the downtown site of the former Shell service station.

The station has been demolished, but Tompkins, owner of San Luis Obispo-based NKT Commercial, hasn’t moved ahead with the project at Santa Rosa and Monterey streets.

Instead, he’s working with Andrew Firestone and Jess Parker of Santa Barbara-based hospitality firm StonePark Capital on a new plan: a 75-foot-tall development with an 80-room hotel, residential units, office space, retail space and a public plaza.

“The location that (Tompkins) has is such an amazing spot for the downtown,” Firestone said in a recent phone interview. “I think it’s kind of a gateway to the downtown area there, and I just wanted to investigate if there was something we could do there that would be a little more important for the downtown as opposed to what he had gotten approved.”

He added, “The project is fine, but there’s a great opportunity to better utilize that space. This is totally kind of conceptual.”

The proposal will go to the city’s Architectural Review Commission on Dec. 7 for a conceptual review, associate planner Rachel Cohen said. There, some questions could be discussed about the project and its location, she said.

“It is sort of the downtown gateway coming off Highway 1,” Cohen said. “What kind of statement does the city want for that corner and is it appropriate?”

The property is located just outside the downtown-commercial zone — it’s zoned retail-commercial — which means the developers have to provide on-site parking.

Tompkins is working on a related proposal to build a 600-space public parking garage and new transit center on two adjacent properties fronting Higuera Street, replacing the government center stop at Osos and Palm streets.

The idea is not new — a downtown concept plan created in the early ’90s envisioned a new transit center at Santa Rosa between Monterey and Higuera streets with a multilevel parking garage.

Tompkins said preliminary discussions about the parking concept are ongoing with the city, the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority and the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments. As part of that plan, he would pay in-lieu fees for the mixed-use development while facilitating the construction of a public parking garage.

He said he hopes to close escrow on one of the properties at 1144 Higuera St. in December. The property owner of the other site, 1166 Higuera St., may become a partner in the parking garage project.

Cohen said the mixed-use project would be considered as a planned development, which allows for more flexibility in development, such as height.

The retail-commercial zone allows for buildings 45 feet tall. In the nearby downtown-commercial zone, they can be 50 feet tall, according to the city’s zoning regulations. The city’s Planning Commission may allow a maximum building height of 75 feet if the project meets at least two policy objectives — such as affordable and workforce housing, pedestrian amenities, historic preservation or energy efficiency, among others.

Firestone is far from the only developer to propose a taller project. Developers Rob Rossi and John King initially proposed building to 75 feet with their Fremont Square project, but they have reduced the height to 60 feet. Rossi said doing so will allow them to move forward with the project more quickly, as it will only need final approval from the ARC.

That project, which would redevelop the buildings that make up 1009-1025 Monterey St., west of the Fremont Theatre, will also go before the ARC and the Cultural Heritage Committee on Dec. 7 for a conceptual review.

There are a few existing tall buildings downtown: the county government center is 65 feet tall, the city parking garage at Palm and Morro streets is 80 feet at its tallest point and the Court Street shopping center is 54 feet tall. In addition, the Anderson Hotel on Monterey Street is 65 feet at the parapet and 90 feet at the top of the bell tower, according to past Tribune stories.

Garden Street Terraces was proposed at four or five stories high, with the tallest point reaching 74 feet, in early stages of that project. But it was revised so that no portion of the project will reach more than 50 feet, and the buildings are no more than four stories tall.

Referring to his proposal, Firestone said: “If there was a place that would fit for a building of that height, I think that is the location for it. If you look at the topography … that seems like the best place for that height.”

He described the hotel as a “downtown urban-style boutique hotel” that wouldn’t have a lot of common spaces to keep guests on-site but would allow them to step outside and enjoy being downtown.

The project would incorporate a midblock public plaza that, according to a description on the plans submitted to the city, “will provide for opportunities for strolling, outdoor dining, relaxing and window shopping.”

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO

What’s proposed

A 124,000-square-foot, 75-foot-tall development with an 80-room hotel, 26,000 square feet of residential units, 33,000 square feet of office space, 20,000 square feet of retail space and a 4,500-square-foot plaza at 1101 Monterey St. in downtown San Luis Obispo.